Friday 20 April 2018

Martin O'Neill: James McCarthy can thrive next to Glenn Whelan

James McCarthy with Martin O'Neill after Ireland's victory over Germany at the Aviva Stadium
James McCarthy with Martin O'Neill after Ireland's victory over Germany at the Aviva Stadium

Martin O'Neill believes that James McCarthy should use his starring performance in Ireland's win over Germany as the template for stamping his authority in the green jersey, regardless of where he is deployed in midfield.

The Everton regular came to life in the absence of Glenn Whelan against the Germans, thriving in a familiar role in front of the back four to put in his best display of the Euro 2016 campaign.

When Whelan came back into the side for the loss to Poland, McCarthy was pushed slightly further forward and struggled to be as effective.

However, O'Neill feels that the Glaswegian is capable of developing his game in the international sphere, suggesting that his all-round display against the Germans should give him the belief that he can thrive in any task.

"I think that regardless of who he is playing alongside, James feels that playing for us, he probably has to be assume a wee bit more responsibility in the side," said O'Neill, who is in the process of crafting a plan for next month's date with Bosnia.


"He plays week in, week out in an Everton side that has a set pattern to it, so he knows what he has to do every single week - not only to play in the side but be successful and do what the manager is instructing him to do.

"Here, I think he's got the capabilities of expanding his game, and against Germany I thought he took the responsibility.

"That now, regardless of who he plays alongside in the midfield, should be something that should stick to him and he should say 'Listen, I can do this.' You couldn't get more world-class opposition and his performance was terrific."

With Jon Walters and John O'Shea suspended for the first leg in Zenica, it would be a surprise if O'Neill overlooked Whelan's experience. The manager is sceptical about the theory that McCarthy is inhibited by the Stoke man's presence in the deeper berth.

"I don't think it should mean that, whoever he (McCarthy) is playing alongside in midfield, that he should retreat into his supposed shell. I never see it like that," he continued.

"I think it's right for us to hope that he himself thinks he can do more for us in the side. If that is a change to what he is normally doing at club level then he will get used to that. I thought he was absolutely brilliant (v Germany).

"People can read into it what they want, maybe it was just James deciding 'this was the night against Germany that I can show people what I'm capable of doing.'"

O'Neill has three weeks to mull over his options and hope that his main men steer clear of the treatment table.

In the aftermath of the draw in Switzerland, he compared the two-legged decider to a tension of a European Cup semi-final, a drama he knows from his playing days at Nottingham Forest. A spirited effort to beat Ajax in 1980 sprung to mind.

"They had great players," he said, "The last 20 minutes were unbelievable. We played the game about five yards in and outside our penalty box. And they had great players. . . Frank Arnesen, Soren Lerby. The year before we drew with Cologne 3-3 at home and it meant we had to go and win there and we did. I suppose these matches would be like those games."

They are positive memories to draw upon, but O'Neill is conscious of Ireland's chequered relationship with the format. He was Richard Dunne's manager at Aston Villa when the heartbroken defender came back from Paris in 2009.

"That was shocking," he recalled. "And they'd done so brilliantly. Didn't France then end up playing Ukraine last time in (World Cup) play-offs and I think they got every decision going too? So, you know, it was a case of 'Oh we'll get France through here whatever we have (to do).

"Richard was devastated but he got his rewards a little while after that with his (Euro 2012) performance in Moscow. And the last one (play-off v Estonia) couldn't have worked out better. The draw and great victory away from home and the party atmosphere. It must have been fantastic to have got that draw at the time."

Bosnia are a totally different level of opposition and, as the higher ranked side, will go into next month as favourites. Confident messages continue to emanate from their camp, although Hertha Berlin striker Vedad Ibisevic says Ireland's German heroics warrant respect.

"I didn't care who we got," he said, "Some people said Slovenia would suit us best but there was no easy option. The German result confirms Ireland's quality but this is a new game and we have a real chance to qualify."

Irish Independent

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