Euro 2000 still bugs Mick

NEW TEAM: Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy (left) and Republic of Ireland U21 manager Stephen Kenny at the Printworks, Dublin Castle ahead of tomorrow’s Euro 2020 Qualifying Draw in Dublin

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Dublin this weekend is a Brexiteer's nightmare, all these people from the continent trying to figure out a way of staying in Europe for as long as possible.

Yep, the draw for the Euro 2020 is in town (tomorrow, 11am) and there's a real hint of glamour about the place.

Last night, Ireland's Euro 88 squad were the guests of honour at the Mansion House for an event.

Today, Luis Figo (just the 22 medals on his CV, including a Champions League win as well as Spanish and Italian league titles) will be having a kickabout in Dublin city, part of the Street Legends Community Football events which drew Robert Pires earlier in the week.

Yesterday Zbigniew Boniek, the greatest Polish player of all time and head of the Polish FA, took to twitter to ask the good people of Dublin to recommend a bar in the city where he can watch the live TV game in the Polish league tomorrow night.

And in the midst of this very European affair, we have an Ireland team, bruised by their worst calendar year in almost four decades, with a new boss and new management team.


Earlier this week, Mick McCarthy dismissed the theory that he is back working for the FAI because of some "unfinished business" with the Ireland job, saying that was "a load of old pony".

But later on, McCarthy admitted that there were some things from his previous spell as Ireland boss which irked. Why did you come back, Mick?

"The European Championships, because I'm still sore about 94 minutes and Macedonia and all that. I'd like to go to a Euros," he said, referring to Ireland's failed attempt to qualify for Euro 2000, when an injury-time equaliser away to Macedonia denied Ireland a win and automatic qualification and doomed his team to an ill-fated play-off with Turkey.

One thing we know: Ireland will be in pot three for the draw. The draw can get a bit complicated due to our status as joint hosts, as no more than two nations who have host cities (and there are 12 of them) can be drawn in the same pool.

There are other rules as well, as Spain and Gibraltar, Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia and Kosovo, cannot be in the same group for political reasons. Luckily for UEFA, Russia and Ukraine are in the same pot (2) so they'll avoid each other in the draw.

Over dinner tonight, McCarthy and his staff will surely mull over their dream group, and the nightmare scenario.

A dream draw for Ireland, in football terms, would be a group with Switzerland, Iceland, Estonia, Gibraltar and San Marino. That's a group that Ireland could actually top, if things went their way.

An okay draw would involve Poland, Austria, Cyprus, Moldova and Malta. A bit tougher, but even if McCarthy's side didn't finish ahead of Poland, they could be better than the rest.

Draws can also be cruel. And a cruel draw for McCarthy's return would pit him against Portugal, Germany, Greece and Kosovo. If 2018 form is the guide, Ireland could actually finish bottom of that five-team group.

If fans got to pick their handiest draw travel-wise, they'd end up with England, Wales, Hungary, Luxembourg and Andorra.

But they don't get to pick and neither does McCarthy so the new Ireland boss won't have been too relaxed last night.

McCarthy said at the start of the week that he hadn't bothered to pick out his dream/nightmare draws.

Old foes like Switzerland and Macedonia may look weak on paper but they could cause him problems. Luxembourg were minnows when McCarthy played for, and managed, Ireland, but their game is on a real up, the national team much improved and club sides giving the likes of AC Milan a run for their money.

Brian Kerr can sympathise with McCarthy in terms of Swiss misses as Switzerland caused both men problems; Israel were also a bogey side for Kerr.

And yet Kerr says he'd fancy the current Irish side against that nation.

"You could end up with fairly handy group that you should be able to come first or second in, even as a third seed," says Kerr, looking ahead to the draw.

"Look at the first seeds, you nearly want to avoid them all. But if you had a choice, you'd take either Switzerland or Poland, even though Mick and I don't have great memories of Switzerland, Mick said that to me recently.

"With the second lot of teams, if you're picking it today based on Nations League you'd pick Iceland. Plenty of others in the second pot, even Denmark and Wales, we should be able for them, you'd be in the running in the matches.

"And then if you don't make it, you get another shot at it. Compared to what Mick had to do before - he finished second three times, didn't he? - where groups are very competitive… he had play-offs, Belgium, Turkey and Iran.

"You won't get Belgium in a play-off, they'd be one you'd want to avoid in pot one, and Turkey have fallen down the rankings.

"But you get another go at it. Twenty-four teams: there's nearly one for everyone in the audience at the moment," Kerr joked.

The Nations League could still offer Ireland a route to Euro 2020 as failure in the regular qualifiers could still be rescued with a play-off based on Nations League form.

Euro 2020 is on home soil but getting there won't be easy.