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EXPECTATIONS: Mick McCarthy has to hit the ground running in his second spell as Republic of Ireland manager

EXPECTATIONS: Mick McCarthy has to hit the ground running in his second spell as Republic of Ireland manager

EXPECTATIONS: Mick McCarthy has to hit the ground running in his second spell as Republic of Ireland manager

In the end, the FAI have gone for it. The easy option: Mick McCarthy back in charge for a second time, a severe test of the old idea that you should Never Go Back.

Just because it's predictable doesn't mean it's the wrong choice.

You can get your groove back even when you previously looked spent. Johnny Cash did his finest work at the end of his career. And the 59-year-old McCarthy could yet deliver on the FAI's call to choose him over the untested, but more exciting, prospect of Stephen Kenny.

McCarthy's appointment, it's clear, has not set pulses racing. Twitter is not an accurate portrayal of the mood of a nation and its value is overstated by those who live by that medium, but the reaction on social media last night was, in young people's language, meh.

A stunning and exciting candidate from left field, a la Trapattoni, would have made people (and not just in Ireland) sit up and take note.

The appointment of Kenny would have invigorated those in the domestic game and given hope for a long-term plan. Kenny would have demands of those around him, not just his players but John Delaney and the FAI board as well, people who have an awful lot to answer for over the state of the game here in late 2018.

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END OF AN ERA: Martin O’Neill and his backroom team ran out of steam at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

END OF AN ERA: Martin O’Neill and his backroom team ran out of steam at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

END OF AN ERA: Martin O’Neill and his backroom team ran out of steam at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

But they went with McCarthy, the obvious choice. Now he has to deliver and show that even though he will have turned 60 by the time he has his first match in charge next year, he's not yesterday's man.

Strong

There is work McCarthy can do before a ball is kicked. Assemble a strong backroom staff, for one. He must also broaden the scouting network.

Any time O'Neill was asked if he'd checked up on the form of players playing outside of Ireland or the UK, such as Cillian Sheridan (Poland) or Danny Crowley (Holland), he'd say "I plan to do that" or "I will look at that". He never did.

Former England U-19 cap Crowley, who confirmed to The Herald two months ago that he was now committed to Ireland, is the sort of creative player who is badly needed by this pedestrian Irish side. He's not Messi, he's not the Messiah, but he should be looked at, something O'Neill did not do properly - O'Neill seemingly put off by the player's brash nature and confidence.

McCarthy also needs to make Declan Rice his priority. Brian Kerr earned kudos for luring prodigal son Roy Keane back to the Ireland fold in 2004, something that looked impossible 18 months earlier.

McCarthy has to use everything he has to convince Rice to commit to Ireland, the West Ham man a player that teams are built around.

We can also presume that McCarthy will cancel a planned and already-advertised appearance on Goals On Sunday on Sky Sports tomorrow. Other plans now given what's happened.

What a difference a week makes. Last Monday night, O'Neill stood for Amhrán na bhFiann in Aarhus, standing to attention as Ireland's last game of 2018.

He had planned to spend the next few days with a bit of down time before preparing to come to Dublin for the Euro 2020 draw next weekend, rubbing shoulders with equals like Roberto Mancini, Joachim Loew, Gareth Southgate, Roberto Martinez and his old foe from those constant fights with Everton, Ronald Koeman.

Instead, O'Neill was last night at Adams Park, the home of Wycombe Wanderers, where he cut his teeth in management, attending a function for ex-players. O'Neill would have attended that gig even if he hadn't left his Ireland post but his midweek exit from that €1.9m a year FAI gig will have hurt his pride.

McCarthy was out of work for less than five months after he quit as Ireland boss in late 2002; O'Neill could have a route back into management soon enough too as the 66-year-old feels he has at least one more Job in him.

Meanwhile, McCarthy will already be casting an eye towards the Euro 2020 draw tomorrow week. His first campaign, for the 1998 World Cup, saw him handed a relatively handy draw: Romania were the top seeds, in there with Iceland, Macedonia, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The minnows Liechtenstein were easily dealt with but the other nations all caused problems; McCarthy's side drawing at home to Iceland and Lithuania and losing in Macedonia.

Romania won the group at a canter, the biggest gap between first (Romania) and second (Ireland) of any European group, and Ireland would be undone in a playoff against Belgium.

It's a different landscape for 2019. McCarthy may need to have the intricacies of the Nations League explained to him by an FAI official this week, but even if the Republic fare badly in the qualifiers proper, they are likely to get one of the playoff berths via the Nations League, a backdoor route fit for losers but one he will take if offered.

Lucky

The aim will be to avoid that backdoor and qualify outright, something that won't be easy. The draw in eight days' time will give McCarthy an idea of how tough it will be.

If he's lucky, he'll get a soft draw: Switzerland, Iceland, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Andorra.

Lose his rub of the green and he'll get the draw from hell: France, Germany, Romania, Kosovo and Latvia.

McCarthy knows the score. Asked midway through his first campaign with Ireland how he'd rate, out of ten, his performance, he declined to answer. "Do you know what I'll get if we qualify for France? Ten. Do you know what I'll get if we don't qualify? Zip, zilch, zero," he said.

Two decades on and the song remains the same. He has to deliver or else his legacy, still intact, will be forever lost.


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