McCarthy in need of patience - not vilification
Criticism was as predictable as it was pointless - and Grealish may be taking notes
Published 04/04/2015 | 02:30
When James McCarthy made a promise to his late grandfather, I suspect he imagined the toughest part of honouring it would be past now.
He was, after all, still a kid as the consequences of that covenant found earliest expression. His parents, Willie and Marie, recount watching their son run a gauntlet of purple, screaming faces in stark outposts like Stirling and Partick as his rumoured allegiance to Ireland first leaked to a vexed Scottish public. James had to grow up fast in the resultant maelstrom.
He was playing for Hamilton in the hard, adult world of semi-professional football at 15, a luminous talent supposedly signposted for greatness.
But his upbringing in the Castlemilk suburb of Glasgow had always borne a distinctly Irish feel and the fervent wish of Paddy Coyle, a son of Gweedore who had emigrated to Scotland in the early 1930s, was that James played his international football in green.
It seems a small eternity back now that we fixated on McCarthy's Irishness being formalised. Having represented his grandfather's country at every level, nothing was actually binding until he played competitively at senior. And it all took on the faint air of a soap opera when he failed to return Giovanni Trapattoni's calls after withdrawing from a 2011 Nations Cup game in Dublin. One month later, however, the suspense was over, McCarthy playing in a Euro Qualifier against Macedonia.
Trouble is, that was four years ago last week and it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that James now wonders if that promise to his grandad was entirely wise. The critical fall-out to Sunday's draw with Poland seems to have been framed entirely by a view that McCarthy remains a disappointment in the Irish shirt, someone playing almost as if he hoped the critics didn't notice him.
The usual suspect branded him "a terrible flop", despite the fact that McCarthy won two Man of the Match awards during the failed campaign to qualify for last year's World Cup and was acknowledged by more observant critics as being one of Ireland's better players as they chased last weekend's game.
But, it's true, he was uninspired until that late, frenzied charge, the midfield battle so one-sided, Ireland almost needing to send up flares. It seems natural to expect more of a player reputedly coveted by Champions League clubs.
If Glenn Whelan is the kind of man you'd like next to you in a lifeboat, we want McCarthy to be the one who makes us dream. And James just hasn't been doing that.
So he encounters scepticism in some quarters, a predictable claque of abuse in others. The consensus seems to hold that he, maybe, lacks a leader's personality, that for all his technical and physical virtues, he is just a little shy.
Martin O'Neill's challenge now is to draw the kind of qualities from McCarthy, the physical edge, the subversive forward runs, the tingling anger even, that Roberto Martinez has managed at Everton. But then, Martinez has been working with McCarthy since he was 18. O'Neill has had him for two competitive games.
Patience and encouragement are clearly needed here, not ridicule. You have to suspect that too much of the criticism coming McCarthy's way this week has been over-arched and a little attention-seeking.
Players returning home from international duty as if crawling out of a train wreck isn't a recipe for long-term success. It is important to remember that.
Ever wonder is Jack Grealish taking notes?