Wednesday 26 June 2019

McCarthy still making the most of the hand he's dealt

Paul Kimmage met with Mick McCarthy again to find he hasn't changed a bit

Mick McCarthy
Mick McCarthy

Twenty-four years have passed since I first fell in love with Mick McCarthy. It happened on a grey afternoon, in February 1990, on the steps of an electrical appliance store in a suburb of Lyon. It was my first month as a journalist, and McCarthy's first (and only) season at Olympique Lyonnais and I'd spent the morning talking football and taking notes at his home on Chemin des Aulnes.

- His wife, Fiona, has shipped all of their furniture from Glasgow.

- Their daughters, Anna (6) and Katie (5) speak with Scottish accents and are attending a local school.

- Four framed football shirts – Barnsley, Manchester City, Glasgow Celtic, Ireland adorn the walls.

- They've had a cupboard of baked beans and spaghetti hoops shipped from England.

- He still prefers the Daily Express to L'Equipe.

But it was an impromptu visit to the local 'Darty' that gave me the first real sense of who he was.

A CD player he had bought the week before was skipping. He put it back in the box, and invited me to return with him to the store. A security man on the door recognised him immediately: "Ohh! Ces't Meek Mac-kar-tee! Comment ca va, Mick? Le genou? Toujours blesse?"

(How's it going, Mick? Is your knee still injured?)

"Ca va mieux, (it's better)" McCarthy replied.

"Bien," the man, continued. "I was at the game when you were sent off against Montpelier. You didn't deserve the first yellow card. (He didn't comment on the second yellow.) I was at the game last Sunday too. We really missed you at the back."

McCarthy nodded in appreciation but was laughing as we entered the store.

"The lads played really well last Sunday," he smiled. "In fact, they needed me at the back like they needed a f**king toothache." And that was it. He had me. Mick McCarthy was my kind of guy.

I interviewed him regularly, through good times and bad, in the years that followed. He was always honest, engaging and generous with his time but everything changed in Saipan. That World Cup didn't break him but it shattered his faith in the media and it would be press conferences only after that. He still made me laugh but it wasn't the same.

Ten years later, in June 2012, I bumped into him one day at a golf tournament in Portugal and we met the next day at a sardine hut for lunch. It seemed ridiculous (to me at least) that I hadn't sat down with him since Saipan and I made him promise to grant me an interview if we managed to find a job again (we were both unemployed).

Two weeks ago, I called-in the favour and spent a day with him at Ipswich. There was one condition; he would not be revisiting Saipan.

1 A soft-natured man

Mick McCarthy was also on that team. Mick didn't have Brady's class and wasn't a superstar like Stapleton, but there was a steel about him I didn't always appreciate although I often admired it. Three months earlier, he'd played against the Swiss in Dublin and as we left the hotel for the game, he warned me about their big centre half.

'Watch Egli,' he said. 'He hits off the ball, dirty bastard. We had a right old battle in Dublin.'

'He can't do that,' I gulped. 'He'll get sent off.'

'Naah, crafty bugguh has it down to a fine art. Don't let him push you around.'

We arrived at the stadium and sure enough, during the warm-up, I noticed this huge hairy bear of a man staring at me. He reminded me of Brutus from Popeye. Mick noticed him too and ran across.

'That's 'im!' he thundered, pointing his finger. 'That's the fucker there!'

- Full Time, Tony Cascarino

Paul Kimmage: Tell me about your first memories of Ireland. You made your debut in 1984 but you had been here before?

Mick McCarthy: Yes, I came over in 1982 with Fiona to see her uncle, Liam, and aunt, Peg, who lived in Portmarnock. I had a new car, a Golf GTi, brought it over on the ferry. It was fabulous. I still remember the registration: PHE9X. It had the old BBS wheels and I thought I was the nuts. The World Cup was on. I remember it because David O'Leary was doing some punditry with Eamon Dunphy and Johnny Giles and I was playing Portmarnock and saw them on the (tee)

PK: They were playing golf?

MMcC: Yeah, if my memory serves me right and it was the nicest the three of them have been to me in 30 years (laughs). No, Dave was fine, and do you know what? The others are fine, now. I get on great with Johnny, actually.

PK: Did you actually talk to them that day?

MMcC: Yes, I would certainly have spoken to Dave . . . I thought he was an amazing player. But it's funny because at that time you didn't mingle with other players like they do now.

PK: The other interesting aspect of that trip – if I remember correctly – was that you were struck by the respect the people had for the national anthem, everybody stood for it.

MMcC: Yes, it was on that trip. We were in a pub and at the end of the night everybody stood up. And Fiona got up and I got up and everybody was singing it and I got that sense of so much pride about it. I was 23 at the time and remember thinking, 'They don't do that in England.'

PK: Your father, Charlie, was from Tallow in County Waterford? You'd never been back with him?

MMcC: No, not until later when I went back for People in Need and we were flown down in a helicopter, my Dad, me and Michael, my son, three generations returning.

PK: When was that?

MMcC: My Dad died in 2001 so it was '98 or '99, before he was poorly.

PK: Talk to me about your Ireland debut. It was May, 1984 and you were playing for Manchester City when you got the call from Eoin Hand.

MMcC: Yeah, I played against Poland.

PK: And missed your brother's wedding?

MMcC: Yeah, Fiona was on holiday with our baby, Anna, and my sister in Tenerife and I had to get the travel agent to find her hotel, it wasn't like you could pick up the phone or fax or email. Eventually I spoke to her and said, "Well, I'll have to speak to my brother." But there was never any danger (of me not coming over). And Fiona was the same; she knew I was going to play football.

PK: What was it like meeting-up for the first time?

MMcC: Slightly bizarre, we came in on Sunday night and met up at the Green Isle Hotel. I had played 300 league games and wasn't wet behind the ears but I came downstairs and the first thing we did was go out to the pub for a few pints! And we go with the manager! I thought: 'Happy days, this is a great team.' And that continued for evermore. I'm not blaming Eoin for that.

PK: But it struck you as unusual at the time?

MMcC: Well, yeah, I can't imagine going out with Billy McNeill (the Man City manager) before a game: "Oh, come on, we'll go and have a few scoops." So that was strange. But the atmosphere with the players was great although the thing that struck me straight away was that they were anti-press.

PK: The players?

MMcC: Yeah, "We don't talk to them." I think because of Liam (Brady), he had missed a penalty or had gone to Juventus, and they were hammering him. And you had Charlie Stuart walking around and the other fellow wafting his fag while he's talking to you . . . What's his name? He had glasses?

PK: Noel Dunne?

MMcC: Yes, and it was all very . . . I don't know, is surreptitious the word? They would always slide up to you for a chat. It was never, 'Can we sit down and have a talk?' They'd catch you somewhere, and I hadn't experienced that before. And from that moment to me leaving in 2002, I had an antagonistic attitude towards the press. (Laughs) So I had a good grounding.

PK: That's interesting.

MMcC: And I'm expected to play against Poland and I get food poisoning and have the shits like you wouldn't believe. For two days I couldn't train, it was just running out of me. I was rooming with Eamonn O'Keefe and it wasn't very pleasant for him. I played but I don't know how. Youth is a wonderful thing, I guess.

PK: It was nil-nil?

MMcC: Yeah, another one of those nil-nilers.

PK: Had you any sense of how the Irish public was towards you?

MMcC: Oh, I think indifferent. The national heroes at the time were Frank (Stapleton), Liam, Dave O'Leary, and rightfully so. They were the big players and could do what they wanted. And then you had Chris Hughton, Tony Galvin, Eamonn O'Keefe, Seamus McDonagh and all of the other ones who, well, they turned up and played. So there was this (divide).

PK: But not because they were Irish-born? It was because they were the stars?

MMcC: Yeah, they were the stars.

PK: There was no resentment because you were born in England?

MMcC: No, the issue was . . . we would turn-up on a Sunday and there used to be three or four hire cars given. And Frank would take one and disappear off down to see his Mum and Dad, and Dave and Tony Grealish and Gerry Daly. So it would be very much the English or Scottish born players that would be in the hotel having a beer on a Sunday night, the others would go home and see their families. And that was one of the things Jack (Charlton) stopped straight away, you had to stay in the hotel, and one of the things that made a better team spirit. He engendered a togetherness that hadn't been there.

PK: Just a small thing like that?

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: And you used the word indifferent, but do you . . .

MMcC: Well, I say indifferent, but they didn't know who I was. I played for Man City. That's what I mean by indifferent.

PK: When did it change? When did you first feel a connection with the fans?

MMcC: When I signed for Celtic, without a doubt. It was a palpable difference. Suddenly, I've got a whole chunk of these green-and-white hooped shirts in my corner. And probably a whole chunk of Ireland that suddenly sees me in a different way. And then of course we qualified for the European Championships in '88.

PK: Tell me about your first encounters with Jack. He had taken over from Eoin two years before that in '86?

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: How well did you know him before that?

MMcC: Oh, I knew him, personally rather than professionally. He used to drink in the same pub as me, The Red Lion. He moved there as the Sheffield Wednesday manager and said he had tried to sign me.

PK: Was this in Barnsley?

MMcC: Worsbrough.

PK: Do you remember your first conversation? Because he was an icon, wasn't he, from '66?

MMcC: He was an icon with me because I supported Leeds and he was a standout, one of the best. But our first conversation would have been in The Red Lion, I can't remember talking to him beforehand and doubt I would have done. He used to come in and have a beer, like I do now in my local pub, and we just ended up chatting and playing pool and talking about football. And, interestingly enough, the first thing he did when he got the Ireland job was to leave me out of the squad.

PK: (Laughs) Did he really?

MMcC: And of course he explained it to everybody: "I know Mick, I don't need to bring him in." And he brought about 45 others in or something ridiculous. I remember I went to the PFA dinner that Sunday and didn't get back until Monday, we had a right good night, and somebody must have said something to Jack because he called me that evening: "Do you want to come over?" And I ended up playing against Wales because John Devine came off and I got on. And the rest, as they say, is history, because I played in nearly every other game for him.

PK: When did he make you captain for the first time? Was it the England game at the World Cup in Cagliari or had you done it before?

MMcC: I had done it before that. Frank was the captain and I think Jack made me captain after him, and then he gave it to Ronnie Whelan because they wanted an Irish voice as captain and I was pretty irked, to be honest. I could understand it, Ronnie was a Liverpool player and born in Dublin, but I was hurt by it. And what happened after that I don't know. Did he get injured and I was put back captain? I don't know. But I think I did a reasonable job and so I kept it.

PK: Okay, trick question, name the team that played England in Cagliari?

MMcC: Oh, start with me (laughs). Packie Bonner, Ray Houghton, Kevin Moran . . . em Tony Galvin?

PK: No.

MMcC: Was it (Kevin) Sheedy?

PK: Yeah.

MMcC: Sheedy and Ray Houghton, Paul McGrath . . Andy Townsend?

PK: Yeah.

MMcC: John Aldridge?

PK: Yeah.

MMcC: Quinny?

PK: Cas.

MMcC: Cas . . . Steve?

PK: Yeah, Steve Staunton and Chris Morris.

MMcC: Yeah, Chris Morris.

PK: Here's a quote: "I was so proud. I was so proud for my father, my wife and my children. I was so proud and delighted for the fans, for Jack, for the rest of the team and for the rest of Ireland. And I thought of my mother. She had died five years previously of cancer. She would have been really proud of me now. There was a lump in my shirt and I could even feel a few tears."

MMcC: That would be right, yeah.

PK: Was that game the pinnacle of your playing career?

MMcC: No, losing in Rome . . . walking out with the armband on in the quarter-final of the World Cup! Wow, that was just bonkers, despite the fact that we lost. And I thought we shouldn't have lost, that's what really hurt me.

PK: Yes, that was another quote: "Rome was the bitterest, worst night of my life as a footballer. I was torn apart by it. I've always got on well with the Irish fans but that night I just couldn't stay on the pitch to applaud or wave. I bolted straight for the dressing room at top speed."

MMcC: Yeah, I was frustrated. I thought the referee was appalling, a Portuguese referee, and so I was angry as well.

PK: He booked you early for a foul on Schillaci?

MMcC: I don't think so. I didn't get booked in the tournament at all. I committed the most fouls but never got booked (laughs). But they were only gentle fouls, you know me, I'm a soft-natured man. No, I was angry that we had lost; I was upset that we had lost. And I didn't know what was happening on the pitch afterwards and I regret that now.

PK: You mean what was happening with your team-mates?

MMcC: Yeah, there was all this great atmosphere and afterwards I thought 'I'm captain of the team and I'm not even there.' But that wouldn't have been for me anyway, not at that time. I was bitterly upset that we had lost and wasn't bothered about waving goodbye. That was me, a cantankerous fucker.

PK: How did the England game compare?

MMcC: Well, beating England in Stuttgart (Euro '88) was one of the happiest days of my life but the pinnacle was Rome and playing as well as we did against the home nation. Because we're talking about Italy the home nation – not Albania the home nation or Lithuania the home nation – and we really took them to the last knockings of the game.

PK: That's an interesting distinction you make between being happiest in Stuttgart but prouder in Rome because they are not the same thing?

MMcC: No they're not. I've had happier games than the one in Rome; I've had happier games as a manager than the one in Rome. But the proudest? No, that's got to be (Rome); the sense of occasion and sense of pride and sense of fulfillment walking onto that pitch in the quarter-final of the World Cup. And then, even afterwards thinking 'We made a good fist of that.'

PK: You were interviewed four years later and were quoted as saying that Jack's difficulty wouldn't be "finding players of similar skill but players of similar spirit."

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: There were a lot of strong characters on that team.

MMcC: Yeah, if you go through them: Kevin Moran, Packie, Cas, Andy Townsend, Quinny. Ray Houghton was a belligerent little bollocks . . .

(I laugh)

. . . he was. He was fantastic. You see a little winger like that and probably think (little of him) but he was different class, a proper character. He cheered people on and got them at it. Paul (McGrath) never said a word but he was such a bloody good player without having that loud personality. Yeah, there were good characters around the place.

PK: We haven't had that many since. Why is that? Is it a generational thing?

MMcC: Well football hasn't changed but I guess all the things that go with it have, the Premier League and the money and all that. We had some wealthy lads at that time as well, not like they are now, but we had Manchester United players, Liverpool players, Everton players, Tottenham players, top players. But the spirit in the team was amazing – if you kicked one, you'd have to kick us all because we'd stick together.

PK: Is money a factor?

MMcC: Well, it's the first thing people question, but the best players in the world are all on top money. And they are all good characters with good spirit and good work ethic, and they never lose it, no matter what they're on. But you have to work and engender a team spirit in sport all the time. Every day you have to work at trying to keep those players happy, motivated, inspired, whatever words you want to put on it, and get a good feel about the place. And Jack was great at that, and we all loved turning up and playing for him.

2 Deep thinking

August 29, 1996: Eschen, Liechteinstein. On the eve of Mick McCarthy's first World Cup qualifying game as manager, two of his most experienced players are discussing the team in their room.

"So what do you think then?"

"Of Mick? Well, at least we're playing football. I thought he'd have us lumping it forward like Jack. I thought it would be a lot more direct."

"Yeah, but what about the results? How many games have we lost?"


"And won?"




"And he's what, five months in the job?"


"Not easy is it?"

"No, but it was never going to be. What age is he? 37? And how does anyone follow an act like Jack?"

"I can't believe I'm still here to be honest."

"No, me neither. Bryan Adams concerts! Travelling everywhere in a group! Eleven o'clock curfews on Sunday evenings! For f**k's sake, we used to be only driving into town at that time in the old days. It was a lot more fun under Jack."

"No, I don't mean that."

"What do you mean?"

"I can't believe he keeps calling me into the squads. As soon as he got the job I was sure 'that's me gone.'"

"Naah, he needs all of the old boys on board, doesn't he? Look at the ages of some of these kids! What's Hartey? 19? And Shay Given and Keith O'Neill can't be that much older. He's not going to win much with a team of kids. You've got to get the blend right. It has to be a gradual transition."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"I do think he's going to struggle with Roy though."

"In what way?"

"Well, do you remember that row they had in '91? I thought Mick was going to chin him. And look at how it's started: Mick makes him captain for his first game in charge and not only is Roy sent off but he then goes AWOL for the US Cup!"

"Yeah, but what's new? Jack struggled with Roy; Alex Ferguson struggles with Roy. Even Roy struggles with Roy."

"Yeah, true enough."

- Inside the Team that Mick Built: Sunday Independent, October 2001

PK: You began your career as a manager at Millwall in '92 and I remember interviewing you about the experience and the change it had brought: "My whole life is now defined by a poxy leather ball hitting the back of the net."

MMcC: And it is, irrespective of whether you've played good, bad or indifferent. You are revered or almost reviled. Look at Michael Laudrup. Twelve months ago (he could do no wrong) and now he's sacked!

PK: How do you stay sane?

MMcC: (Laughs) You think I'm sane?

PK: It seemed all consuming.

MMcC: And it still is. I dunno, I try to see the wood from the trees.

PK: Is it hard?

MMcC: Fiona put manners on me years ago. We were coming back from church one Sunday morning and I was having it really tough with Millwall. The results were bad and I'm right under it (the cosh) because it's my first job and if you lose that first job – check the stats – it's something like above 50 per cent or 60 per cent don't ever get another one. One of the kids kicked the back of the car seat and I had a snarl at them and Fiona let it rip at me: "It's not them, it's you! The kids are doing nothing wrong, it's just you, you're completely absorbed by this." And there were a few choice words and she was dead right. And from that day I've tried at least, and as I've got older, I've got better.

PK: You were coming back from church?

MMcC: I don't know who we had played, we might have drawn or lost but it was still on my mind. It wasn't what the priest had said.

PK: You're both Catholic?

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: Do you still go?

MMcC: No.

PK: When did you stop?

MMcC: I'd prefer not to talk about that.

PK: But you listened to her?

MMcC: Yes, because she was right.

PK: And you still listen to her?

MMcC: Yeah, (smiles). She says to me: 'You never listen. You don't listen to me.' I say: 'I do, love. I just take no notice.' But yeah, of course I do. And I like to think we're fairly similar with our opinions and our pragmatic approach to life.

PK: You met Fiona when you were four?

MMcC: Yeah, (laughs) it's a fair sentence, isn't it? For her.

PK: I'm just wondering what the stats are in football with regard to a relationship surviving that long. It wouldn't be common?

MMcC: Maybe not but I think there are a few that last.

PK: So straight away, your life as a manager is very different than as a player?

MMcC: Yeah, without a doubt. I was learning the job while I was doing it but it was hard, bloody hell, yeah. And again, no matter how well you've done your job all week, if you get beat you're a chump.

PK: What was the reward?

MMcC: Still being in football.

PK: That was it?

MMcC: Yeah. I'm making the decisions and being responsible and getting well paid. And it's the next best thing to playing, well I think it is.

PK: You said some other interesting things around that time. The first was about loyalty in football: "People talk about loyalty in football. How loyal is football to footballers? I have a great relationship with the fans here but if we struggle next season I'll hear the 'McCarthy out' chants. I'm very happy to stay, and I'll not go looking for something else but if big money came in for me, of course I'll go. I'm as loyal to Millwall as football allows me to be."

MMcC: And 21 years later, I stand by every word. I don't do all that shirt-kissing bullshit because that's what it is. I get a job and once I am in here, I am inside the tent pissing out. And everybody who is with me is doing exactly the same. And all the others who are outside pissing-in can feck off as far as I'm concerned. And that could be called siege mentality but it's not, you get people around you who want to be with you and work for you and you can achieve great things.

PK: You succeeded Jack as manager in February, '96 and I think your concern at the time was that failure would tarnish the memory the Irish public had of you.

MMcC: Yeah, I was well thought of as a captain and it was a risk, but it was worth the risk.

PK: You took the team to two play-offs before qualifying (for the World Cup) in 2002. Of the near misses, what hurt most?

MMcC: Losing in Macedonia, because we should have won it.

(In October, 1999, the team were 1-0 up against Macedonia in Skopje and 12 seconds away from qualifying for the European Championship finals when they conceded a goal from a corner.)

MMcC: That was the worst. I didn't sleep a wink all night long. I sat up and watched some shitty film. I remember coming down (next morning) and I put my best bib and tucker on (a suit and tie). They were expecting to see a disheveled, broken man but they didn't get it.

PK: You weren't broken but you were certainly battered?

MMcC: Oh, I was battered. It was the first time they played or tried (in the group). Mark McGee went across to watch them against Yugoslavia and they were two or three-nil down and never tried a leg! But, nothing I can do about that. I can only look after my own game and we should have won it.

PK: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger?

MMcC: Oh yeah, it does, you get over it. But let me tell you, I was in bits. I was in rag order.

PK: This is another quote from the eve of the Tehran game: "People often ask me what have I learned from defeats in places like Brussels and Bursa and they are surprised, or they laugh, when I can't tell them. And I can't. It's inside me. It changes you inside. You become what you are. All of the experiences go into making you what you are. I can't say what I learned but I know I changed. I know I'm a better manager and we are a better team."

MMcC: I'll tell you what you learn: 'I don't want to get beat the next time.' That's what you learn. Or that's what you feel and I can tell you it hurts like hell. You're on that pitch in Belgium and 'We are the Champions' is going up and we'd have qualified for all the finals by finishing second (if the rules had been the same) when Jack was in charge. But that never gets mentioned. The only play-off Jack had was against Holland, and we got slapped.

PK: Would you agree that those five years between taking the job to qualifying in Tehran did not change your inherent character, but it did diminish your trust in people and the media in particular?

MMcC: Without a doubt, I don't think I've changed since you met me in Lyon. I've got older and I hope I've got wiser but yes, it did challenge my faith and trust in a lot of people. And certainly in the media, and I think justifiably so because I think I was particularly harshly treated by one or two.

PK: In October 2001, I wrote a major feature on the team and quoted a conversation between two of your senior players on the eve of a game in Liechtenstein, just after you took over in '96. They are talking about you and the job and they both raise the same red flag, Roy. How is he going to handle Roy?

MMcC: Yeah, but isn't it interesting. I'd had the job since 1996 and it (the blowout) was in June 2002. Do you not think I had managed them all particularly well until that stage?

PK: Yeah, that's fair.

MMcC: And by the way, it wasn't all sweetness and light all the way through with all of them. So I think I had managed and handled every single one of them.

PK: I think the point the boys were making was that he was almost unmanageable?

MMcC: Yeah, well, I said I wasn't getting into that. And I'm not going to.

PK: That's understood.

MMcC: It's a discussion I don't have because it courts a million words by everybody and I left that (behind) 12 years ago. I've gone on and enjoyed a decent career as a manager and don't harp back on that at all.

PK: And I'm not going to pursue it but I am interested in the fall-out and how much it must have hurt.

(He smiles)

PK: Tom Humphries made a really interesting observation in a column he wrote, three years after Saipan. A survey had just been published about our views on non-nationals and he said the results proved something "Mick McCarthy must have realised a few years: Deep down we Irish are a very shallow people." You had just won the Championship with Sunderland but there seemed to be a reluctance here to applaud. I quote: "Mick McCarthy, whose achievement in this instance is considerable, possibly the most substantial of his career, is of no practical use to us as a nation in the forseeable future. So we noted what he had done and we moved on, chuckling at the thought of him coming up against Roy Keane a few times a year. It's strange isn't it? How we can erase somebody from the landscape so quickly. No doubt McCarthy still has many personal friends over here and certainly he had close to a majority backing him at the time of L'Affaire Keano but his banishment and the manner in which we turned on him suggest a more uncomfortable truth about ourselves. Irishness is a flexible concept."

MMcC: Well, I think he's a bit of a hypocrite because he started it and fuelled it when it was going. And so did everyone else. We were 17 pages (of coverage) in one paper and this was during the elections (2002, General Election). Seventeen bloody pages! And I don't agree with him. I think I'm well respected and thought of as an Irishman. And it's got nothing to do with being Irish, that's just football. I mean, they are not that bothered about Steve Staunton and he's Irish . . .

PK: That's a good point. I heard someone mocking him on radio the other day and it was appalling. He's one of our greatest ever servants as a player and there's no respect for him at all.

MMcC: I'm afraid to say that's football. I used to room with Frank Stapleton. He was the Man United centre forward, the captain of Ireland, the big cheese. I used to answer the phone in the room and it was always the same ...

Is Frank there?

Is Frank there?

Is Frank there?

Anyway, we went off to the World Cup and Frank didn't play. We're coming back (to Dublin) on the plane; I'm on the right hand side and he's sat there (beside me), and people are coming down the aisle asking me for my autograph and not even looking at Frank. I say "You'll want Frank's too, won't you?" They say "Oh, yeah" but it was like he wasn't there. I thought 'Wow! How quickly do you get forgotten about.' I was more important that day because I'd played against England and Holland and Egypt. But that's football. Every time I go back to Ireland, I get such a lovely reception from the people. And it's because of what they think about me, and not an incident that happened 12 years ago.

PK: What about your final game as manager, when they booed you against Switzerland? Don't tell me that didn't cut you to the core?

MMcC: Yeah, but again, that's not about Irishness, that's football. You're doing too much deep thinking here. It's simple – when I'm winning, people like me; when I'm not, people don't. When I'm beating another manager, he's a friend of mine; when he's beating me, he's a f**ker.

3 Happy Days

February 2014: Three reporters are sitting in the Ipswich Town press room awaiting the arrival of the manager, Mick McCarthy. They are having a good chuckle about Roy Keane and his likely return to the club as the Ireland assistant manager. McCarthy's reaction is exactly what you expect when informed about it later: "Well, let me tell you, Roy knows where I am, and he certainly knows where my office is." And then he says something you don't expect: "And if he wants to come and seek me out, he'll be welcome."

PK: For a guy "who couldn't play and can't manage" you've done okay. Talk to me about your life after Saipan and a new start at Sunderland.

MMcC: Well, I tend not to look back on things but getting Sunderland was brilliant. It's such a huge club and I was really excited until we were relegated and I had to make 75 people redundant. I took the job with nine games to go (in the 2002-'03 season) and we lost them all. Then we started the new season and lost two again – to Nottingham Forest away and Millwall at home – so I had lost 11 on the bounce and it wasn't looking good. The next game was (away to Preston), and had we lost we'd have had the worst record since (laughs) . . .

PK: But you won?

MMcC: We won and finished third and got to the semi-final of the Cup and all sorts of stuff, so it was good. But that was a club that was hurting. That was a club that was battered and bruised and it needed a real repair job.

PK: And it was the following year that you won the Championship and were promoted to the Premier League?

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: How was that as an experience?

MMcC: Well, I went to see the board and they told me I was getting six million quid to spend and that would be on fees and wages and agents. And I was seldom as disappointed at any other time.

PK: Because that gave you no chance?

MMcC: Yeah, and it's funny, a mate of mine rang me up and said, "Resign." I said, "Resign? What are you on about?" He said, "You've got no money. You'll have no f**king chance. You've done well, your stock's high, just resign." But he knew more than I did. The disappointment lasted for about a minute and I thought 'I'll show you.' That shows you how stupid and naïve I was because we had no chance, really. You end up trying to buy players and you're giving them more money, but they're no better than the ones that have got you up. I might just as well have said: "Naah, keep the six million. We'll keep the team we've got."

PK: I was going to suggest that.

MMcC: I'd do it now. It was great taking them back to the Premier League but it was like pushing treacle up a hill all the time. You're getting beaten and you're put in front of the cameras and you try to be honest but . . .

PK: You lost the Sunderland job in 2006.

MMcC: Yeah. Was it February or March? We were into Lent, anyway, because I had given up the drink and I rang my mate after I got the sack. I said "F**king hell, that Lent is off, we're going for a drink." (Laughs.) So we went for a drink and I didn't stop until I got the job at Wolves.

PK: That was the following summer?

MMcC: Yeah, I went to Portugal for a month in June and got a call from Jez Moxey (the Wolves, Chief Executive) to meet him and Sir Jack (Hayward) in London and I think before I had walked out the door, they had given me the job.

PK: How did Wolves compare as a place to work?

MMcC: Very similar, two huge clubs with big support. Wolves were down on their heels and needed a repair job and I had to dampen expectation. I said 'I'm Mick McCarthy not Merlin the Magician.' And I wasn't joking. I'd been given (just) a million quid and suddenly it was "Oh, we'll get promoted."

PK: You played Sunderland that November; Roy had taken over as manager. I've always been fascinated by the handshake and that meeting you had before the game.

MMcC: I rang him up and said "Look, this is going to be a circus if we don't meet and have a chat." So I arranged to meet him. I drove to a hotel in Manchester and we had a chat. We didn't get into depth about it (Saipan) but he apologised to me and I said 'Fine.' And that was it, done. And I've felt that way ever since.

PK: When did you do the Carlsberg ad with Jack and John Giles?

MMcC: I was the Wolves manager, because I rang and checked if I was cutting across any sponsors or beer suppliers. I got a call and they sent me the script and I thought 'This sounds like a bit of fun.' And it was. We had a great couple of days in Barcelona.

PK: That's where it was shot?

MMcC: Yeah. You've got the script but you have to act and get the timing right. Jack had to throw the newspaper down and speak but he kept speaking before he put the paper down. Then they have the girls playing football but they're kicking it with their toe and Jack is getting the hump because they can't do it right. And me and Gilsesy are pissing ourselves: 'Jack! They're f**king models! They're not meant to kick it!' But he got into coaching mode straight away.

PK: Yeah, it comes across that you're enjoying it.

MMcC: It was funny because Gilesy had always given me a hard time and I went up to him at one of the (awards) dinners and said: "Johnny, I just want to say that I always admired you as a player. I thought you were fantastic." And I shook his hand and left him to it. Now, I'm not suggesting for one minute that made him feel any different about me as a player, or as a manager, but I got on great with him on that trip.

PK: Because you would never have spent much time with him?

MMcC: No, not at all, but I just wanted to bury all the old nonsense. I saw a lot of the journalists as well at the World Cup in South Africa and shook hands with them, although I might have squeezed one or two fingers slightly tighter than the others, just to show I hadn't gone completely soft.

PK: The last time I spoke to you was when we had lunch in Portugal in June 2012. Four months had passed since you had lost the job at Wolves, the longest you had ever been unemployed.

MMcC: Yeah, I was getting a bit crabby then.

PK: What was it?

MMcC: You start to miss it. You miss the comraderie straight away; you miss the crack with the lads; you miss the structure of getting up and going to work; organising things, making decisions, being in charge. I missed doing what I do and started to get a bit tetchy and crabby in Portugal – I needed to get back to work.

PK: But the weather was beautiful. You were going to the beach and playing golf.

MMcC: Yeah, and I enjoyed my time off but it just proves you cannot go on holiday all the time or play golf every day. You have to have something meaningful in your life, well, I have, and I found it hard towards the end. You have all these things inside you, organisational skills, management skills, and you are not using any of them. Or any of the things that test you on a daily basis and it twists your head a bit. So I was glad to get back to work.

PK: You were interested in taking the Ireland job again.

MMcC: Well, there was talk (at that time) of Trap leaving and I'd have gone back, of course I would, but he stayed on.

PK: How did you feel about it last September when he resigned?

MMcC: I told anybody who asked: "I'm not going to say I'm not interested but it's up to them to ask." But nobody ever asked. I also said it was Martin O'Neill's job, that he'd got it.

PK: How were you so sure?

MMcC: I'm not as green as I'm cabbage-looking. I was absolutely certain they would give it to him. He was absolutely nailed on. He has been such a bloody good manager and would have made a good choice.

PK: Did the FAI ever speak to you?

MMcC: Not directly, no. I just got a call asking if I'd be interested. And I said 'Well I'm never going to say I'm not.' But that was as far as it went.

PK: Was the call from John Delaney?

MMcC: I'm not going to tell you who I spoke to but it wasn't John Delaney. I never spoke to John Delaney at all.

PK: Were you surprised at Roy as the number two?

MMcC: I'd have to say I was, yeah.

PK: On what level were you surprised?

MMcC: Well I didn't know they were close. And I guess I was surprised that that marriage between himself and the FAI could be mended, bearing in mind all of the things that had been said.

PK: Were you surprised that Martin would take him on board?

MMcC: I didn't realise Martin had worked with Roy for so long with the Champions League (on ITV) and obviously they chatted about football, which we do, and you find a common bond. But, no, I wouldn't be surprised with Martin. He's a bright bloke, a clever bloke and nobody's fool, that's for sure. Martin is the head honcho. If they're a success, do you think anybody is going to say it's (because of Roy)? But it was an unbelievable announcement because it has generated so much publicity in the team again, because it had died by the way.

PK: How do you mean?

MMcC: You didn't see anything on Sky in England about the Republic of Ireland at all.

PK: You noticed that?

MMcC: Oh yeah, for the last two years.

PK: Will you go to any of the games?

MMcC: I've been to a couple of the games, that's all, but maybe . . . I haven't stayed away for any reason.

PK: You took the Ipswich job a couple of months after we had lunch?

MMcC: Yeah, I was in Italy with a pal of mine when I got the call from Marcus Evans (the owner): "Hiya Mick, It's Marcus Evans from Ipswich Town here." I said (sounds chirpy) "Hiya Marcus." But what I really thought was 'Oh shit! They're bottom of the league, here we go again.' But I'm delighted because he's a good guy."

PK: And you did it again?

MMcC: Yeah, I kept them up which was my brief. They had seven points when I joined and we had 60 in the end so it was a good old hit.

PK: Ian Ridley did a piece with you for the Daily Telegraph recently and reminded you that you've taken every club you've worked with to promotion or the play-offs.

MMcC: Yeah.

PK: Your reply was "No pressure."

(He laughs.)

PK: You used to play for Manchester City?

MMcC: No, I didn't play for the Manchester City that's playing now.

PK: That was the question.

MMcC: No, I'm not sure that's the same club I played for, in fact I'm certain it's not, all that glitz and glammer and bling, it's unbelievable. Do you know what I'm waiting for? To get on the coat-tails of one of those jobs. I'm waiting for someone to call and say, "We want you, Mick, and we'll give you all this money to spend."

PK: That would be Happy Days?

MMcC: (Laughs) I don't know, I might make a bollocks of it.

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