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Monday 18 December 2017

I won't go back on my word to Ireland - McCarthy

Wigan's James McCarthy battles for possession with Craig Gardener of Birmingham during their Premier League game on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Wigan's James McCarthy battles for possession with Craig Gardener of Birmingham during their Premier League game on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

James McCarthy has confirmed that a switch back to Scotland was never on his mind as he prepares to make his competitive debut for Ireland later this week.

The talented midfielder has been hogging the headlines over the last month after a remarkable episode fuelled by bizarre comments from both Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni and his Wigan counterpart Roberto Martinez.

They gave weight to groundless speculation that Glasgow-born McCarthy -- who was capped in a senior friendly against Brazil last February -- was mulling over changing his international allegiance to the country of his birth. Under amended FIFA rules, any player who has yet to line out in a senior competitive international can switch countries.

McCarthy made the big decision to switch to Ireland in his mid-teens, and has been baffled by the furore that surrounded his withdrawal from the squad to play Wales in the Carling Nations Cup last month.

Martinez hasn't covered himself in glory. He made a series of unusual statements suggesting the player was in a dilemma, even uttering the same message on Thursday -- on the day the player was in touch with the FAI confirming his flights for Dublin this week, for a game his family plan to attend. Those comments caused bemusement in the McCarthy camp.


Scotland had given up on the player but were alerted by the fuss. However, McCarthy spoke in the Scottish media over the weekend to make it clear there was no turning back.

"I've had to contend with this for a few years. But it has really all stemmed from other people wanting it to happen," he said.

"I appreciate the interest from Scotland but I do not want to go back on my word. I am, and will remain, a Republic of Ireland player.

"I hope to play against Macedonia next weekend and that will put any talk of Scotland to bed once and for all. There can be no going back after that."

The ridiculous controversy around the Wales game left all parties confused, with Trapattoni appearing to buy into Martinez's belief that McCarthy was in two minds over his international future.

For the midfielder, it was much ado about nothing. Nevertheless, the chain of events led to a meeting between Trapattoni and the player, which ironed out any difficulties. The Irish management were unhappy that McCarthy pulled out of last summer's training camp due to fatigue, even though the ex-Hamilton star reported to Dublin to explain his situation.

He missed out on the next couple of Irish squads, before an ankle problem sidelined him for three months, ruling him out of the November friendly with Norway. The Welsh game came just after his comeback.

"It reached new levels, went too far really, when I withdrew from the Ireland squad to play Wales," said McCarthy.

"It was all above board. I was not long back in the Wigan team after three months out with an ankle injury and I was still taking things slowly as I didn't want to risk anything. But this became a huge story and all the talk of me playing for Scotland resurfaced.

"My phone never stopped ringing. I've never received so many text messages and listened to so many voicemails. My friends were in touch and the media wanted to know what was going on. It was mental really. I've never been so popular!

"Some people may have thought I was going to pledge myself to Scotland but that was never really on my mind, although a couple of people did speak to me about it. But I never spoke directly to Craig Levein about it.

"Trapattoni flew across to England to see me and we met at a hotel. He wanted to look me in the eye and ask if I was happy and committed to Ireland.

"I told him I was happy and wanted to play for him. It was a good meeting. We were both satisfied at the end of it.

"I want to help Ireland reach the Euro 2012 finals. I appreciate the interest from Scotland but don't want to go back on my word."

He is expected in Dublin today ahead of training tomorrow. The injured John O'Shea and Keith Andrews won't be there, however, after they dropped out of the original 29-man squad.

Leon Best (ankle), Keith Fahey (groin) and Richard Dunne (shoulder) are major doubts, yet the FAI have received no information to suggest they won't be turning up.

Dunne is the biggest concern. Without O'Shea and Shay Given, the experienced defender would be taking on extra responsibility. Despite his turbulent situation at Aston Villa, he has contacted Trapattoni with confident noises about his chances of being fit. Robbie Keane is also short of 100pc fitness, developments which could indirectly affect McCarthy's chances of starting.

Trapattoni doesn't like to make radical changes between games, and with enforced changes in defence and a possible switch in attack, a midfield reshuffle is unlikely.

Irish Independent

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