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McCarthy isn't just the safe option - he can shake up the FAI


Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

Penny for your thoughts Mr Keane.

A little over a year ago, bookies had the icon as a short-odds favourite to succeed Martin O'Neill as Ireland manager, with his reincarnation from on-field enforcer to positive influencer all but complete as he appeared to be filling the assistant's role few believed he was cut out for, with professionalism and aplomb.

In public at least, there were barely any murmurs of discontent about an A-list sidekick who appeared to be edging himself into pole position to land a managerial post he had always craved.

But now, after a week of frantic change at the top of Irish soccer, Keane finds himself looking on as his old nemesis takes the job he dared to believe could be his.

Once Keane's infamous spat with Harry Arter and Jonathan Walters from last summer was exposed, any hope he had of becoming Ireland manager evaporated.

That Mick McCarthy has emerged from the melee Keane helped to create to make a return as Ireland manager 16 years after he left the post will surely add salt to already stinging wounds.


STANCE: Harry Arter

STANCE: Harry Arter

STANCE: Harry Arter

Since then, Keane has been kept away from the press conference microphones that used to be his platform, and while we will all wait for his comments on McCarthy's return to the Ireland job with relish, we don't need to be told how he must be feeling now.

Keane must be seething, yet there is no need for the rest of us to have negative feelings towards a returning manager who has the capacity to inject the joy back into a national team that has forgotten how to smile in the last year.

The campaign for Stephen Kenny to be handed the chance to lead Ireland into the Euro 2020 qualifiers had gathered momentum in the last 48 hours, but FAI chief John Delaney clearly felt that bold move was a risk too far and opted to fall back on McCarthy in the hope that stability will trump freshness.

Some will be disappointed by Kenny's snub, but there is no reason to feel anything but optimism as the most torturous 12 months in the recent history of the Ireland national team is now at an end.

It was only last Monday that the nation sat through what proved to be the final, agonising instalment of the O'Neill era, with his comments after the game confirming he had no intentions of walking away from a job he no longer had a mandate to continue in.

Unexpectedly, O'Neill and his sidekick Keane were gone the next day, with McCarthy and Kenny quickly emerging as the two men battling it out for the top job.

If Delaney was testing the waters of public opinion as those two names emerged on Thursday, he didn't wait long to make his decision.

After months of chaos on and off the pitch, Delaney has re-hired what many will view as the safe option in McCarthy and while some may have wished for more radical change, we should not have to view this highly respected and successful manager in a dim light.

Here is a tactician who took Ireland into the knock-out stages of the 2002 World Cup and who has guided two clubs to Premier League promotion in England, with his passion for the Irish cause burning as brightly now as it did when he won each of his 57 caps.

This is a man supremely qualified for the Ireland job, a man who knows the landscape of Irish soccer as well as anyone and could well have the gravitas as power of influence to instigate the kind of changes so many have been calling for in the corridors of power at the FAI.

While the link between the senior team and the underage sides has been hard to identify during O'Neill reign, McCarthy may well have the passion and drive to get his teeth into the fabric of the Irish game and shake up an FAI set-up in need of modernising and refreshment.

He needs to reshape Irish soccer, identify how we should play and promote what we can do rather than highlight the negatives, as O'Neill did far too often.

McCarthy is so much more than a smiling face and a chirpy character; this 59-year-old has the energy and drive to breath fresh life into a job he has wanted a second shot at from the moment he walked away from it 5,863 days ago.

Back then, Keane was the primary reason for McCarthy's exit - their infamous spat in Saipan had dominated the Irish agenda for the months that followed - so the irony that his return to the Ireland job comes primarily because of Keane's fall from grace will not be lost on anyone.

Delaney and McCarthy may well share a smile at Keane's expense when they are reunited, but the bigger picture here should to be that these two men now need to instigate real change in our game from top to bottom.