Sport Soccer

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Smug chucklers are no match for Barnsley's finest

Tommy Conlon

You know he's hurting, you know he doesn't think it's funny, but at the same time you can't help having a laugh.

It's a fond laugh however, affectionate even, as Mick appears for the post-match interview, ready to lament another three points that he won't be getting back.

And there he is, ashen-faced from the latest trauma, with that hangdog expression and the weight of the world on his shoulders. And that's because the world is against him, surrounded as he is by the big-money names who will always look down their noses at his small, provincial team.

You have to scrap and scrape for everything in this world, and even when you do, it's still not enough.

Last weekend his valiant Wolves team took the game to Manchester United at Old Trafford and, sure as death and taxes, up popped Park Ji-Sung to kill them with a winner in the final minute. And Alex Ferguson thinks he has it tough? Try being Mick McCarthy.

The cruelty of it all was writ large in his features as he faced the TV cameras afterwards. But even still, once he started to talk, a lot of people started to chuckle. He wasn't interested in gallant defeats, he said. "We've got diddly squat, zero, zilch, zip. Well done Sir Alex, but I'd prefer to be going in now and drinking his fine wine with a point. Instead it'll taste like vinegar."

Cut to the Match of the Day studio where Lineker and the lads immediately burst into giggles. It's the way he says it. The mention of "diddly squat" might have had something to do with it. But it's probably got more to do with that rich, Barnsley drawl, and his plain-spoken ways.

He wears his heart on his sleeve, does Mick. He is a sort of tragicomic Everyman who has managed to fetch up in the Premier League, an innocent at large in this world of wealth and glamour, relying on his working-class grit and honesty of character to survive.

In fact, he is one of the great survivors, given that his managerial career began as far back as 1992, with Millwall. He has been through the grinder since then, making plenty of mistakes along the way. But that's a lot of games to endure from the sideline, with all their random twists and turns, all those capricious players and inept referees and hostile fans and arbitrary results. Promotion, relegation, a sacking, and perennial pressure from the media -- and the man is still standing. And that's before we even mention Saipan, and the Ireland years. He has a strong constitution. He has made a moderate talent as a footballer go a long way. The bit of thickness has helped too.

It certainly helped when he was playing. We can still remember him battering Paolo Rossi around Dalymount Park on that infamous night in '85. (Presumably Rossi can too.) Mick liked to put his foot in. In fact, he liked to put both feet in, and knees, elbows and head too.

And on Wednesday night last he found himself harking back to those halcyon days when you could break a man in two and no one passed any remarks. Wolves had just been beaten 0-2 by Arsenal. But, rather admirably, the one thing he didn't complain about was the tackle by Cesc Fabregas on his full-back, Dubliner Stephen Ward, that left Ward needing stitches on his shin. Fabregas had come into the dressing room afterwards to apologise, Arsene Wenger had apologised too, and he was happy enough with that. "Wardy" accepted the player's apology, shook his hand and took it like a man. "It was a throwback," said Mick, "to olden days when you got a broken nose and your mate bought you a pint and said 'unlucky' and I said, 'I'll see you in November and get you back'."

Mick's nose has been out of joint for years. The big centre-forwards in his own playing days must've been queuing up to buy him pints and say 'unlucky'. And it's been out of joint this season too since Fulham's Danny Murphy accused certain managers, McCarthy included, of sending out their players "pumped up" with aggression.

On Wednesday night, Mick once again came across as the no-nonsense Yorkshireman who doesn't care that straight talking

has gone out of fashion. "I don't mind tackling! What I don't want is everybody else bitching about it when we do tackle! That's what I can't stand."

Cut to the MotD studio where the smug gits get another giggle out of Mick's woes. We reckon they might be trying deliberately to get a rise out of him at this stage. A week after Murphy's comments, Wolves played out a 1-1 draw with West Ham at Molineux. It was a good match, prompted the BBC reporter, and no yellow cards either? McCarthy bristled as he replied, his drawl positively dripping with sarcasm. "No, no. I'll have to go in and knock seven bells out of everybody like I normally do. They went out and played free-flowing football and were rampant for 45 minutes. What the hell were they playing at?"

With that, he turned to leave. "Thanks Mick," said the reporter. "Cheers," said Mick, as several blokes off camera could be heard breaking into laughter.

Cheers to you too, Mick. An honest man in a crooked world.

thecouch@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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