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Mick's mind is elsewhere

Nations League not on agenda of current boss as Coleman injury takes top priority


Mick McCarthy at the Nations League draw in Amsterdam. Photo: Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy at the Nations League draw in Amsterdam. Photo: Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy at the Nations League draw in Amsterdam. Photo: Sportsfile

In the discussion of football, people have short memories. By the time the UEFA Nations League comes around, Mick McCarthy will likely be working in the game elsewhere or sat in a TV studio.

The news cycle will have moved on to assessing the strengths and weaknesses of an Irish side led by Stephen Kenny.

The Republic of Ireland's clearly defined succession plan and UEFA's decree that current managers should attend placed McCarthy in an awkward situation in Amsterdam.

He was asked to pass comment on the first competitive tasks facing his successor.

The quote that the FAI website chose to pick out was McCarthy's assertion that the draw "was as good as we could have got".

A cynical interpretation would be to read that take as "no excuses Stephen".

Admittedly, McCarthy was pretty happy when a quirk of the draw ensured that Rep of Ireland avoided Germany and Netherlands for regular Euros qualifying, but he was quick to point out that Switzerland and Denmark were quality opponents which made for a tough test.

McCarthy was speaking more like a pundit than an FAI employee when he concluded that Kenny would be "thrilled" with how the balls had rolled.

You'd imagine Kenny will adopt a more reserved tone, although you can expect the former Dundalk manager to be unfailingly positive about his team's chances when the games themselves come around.

Wales are a tough top seed to face, and not just because familiarity breeds contempt. They will ask questions of the new management team, and their production line is churning out good players. Thankfully, the same can be said of Ireland at the moment.

McCarthy has always observed that Kenny is in a good position because he is going to inherit them. The incumbent feels unlucky by comparison.

The confirmation that Séamus Coleman is out of March's play-offs - presuming of course that coronavirus allows everything to run to plan - is a major blow to the Irish boss.

This is where we return to the short memories theme.

It's true that Coleman has endured a testing season and the public reaction to this setback provides a contrast to the mood when he was absent from the second half of the World Cup 2018 tilt. Irish fans have taken the news well because of Matt Doherty's outstanding form, but it was a good problem to have two excellent options at right back.

Now, the wellbeing of Doherty is an absolute priority.

With Wolves engaged in the Europa League, they have a hectic schedule before the group come together. Five games where McCarthy will be hoping the wing-back avoids a mishap.

Granted, on current form, the case for selecting Doherty over Coleman anyway was a strong one.

Yet the suspicion lingered that McCarthy would find room for his captain, with knock-out football demanding experience and placing a premium on the avoidance of mistakes.

Doherty was excellent against Denmark in November yet he was caught out for the opening goal before cancelling it out with the late equaliser.

For all his attributes, he is deployed in a more advanced role with Wolves so it's not a straightforward transition into the Irish starting team.

Ireland need to come through two away dates in five games to progress and the unavailability of Coleman is a loss. Make no mistake about it. McCarthy went to watch Fulham last week and will now have Cyrus Christie on standby in case of emergencies.

With Ciarán Clark sidelined, he's got the rusty Kevin Long as back-up if anything goes wrong with Shane Duffy and John Egan.

Enda Stevens is currently working his way back from a knock. James McClean has work to do to make it. At least David McGoldrick scored for Sheffield United last night.

That's the only good news that McCarthy would have taken out of the day. Everything else is irrelevant right now.