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Sunday 22 September 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Old guard like Long and Brady need to make their case to fend off emerging stars'

 

Brady: Under pressure to make squad. Photo: Sportsfile
Brady: Under pressure to make squad. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

As a player, Mauricio Pochettino never held back from a tackle when one was needed in the bruising leagues of his native Argentina and Spain.

And the current boss of Tottenham didn't shirk in the last 24 hours as he took a rusty old nail to the balloon of hype which had threatened to engulf a 17-year-old Dubliner called Troy Parrott.

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"He needs to be relaxed. If we put too much pressure [on him], we're going to push him to make a mistake and that is what we don't want," said Pochettino, doing his best to calm the talk (much of it emanating from people who have never seen Parrott play in the flesh) that goals for the Ireland U-21 side mean that he's ready to play for the first team at Spurs.  

Some keyboard warriors have decided that the classy nature of Parrott's second goal for Ireland's U-21 side in a win over Sweden on Tuesday night means he simply has to be in the Spurs team. But Pochettino looks at Parrott and still sees a boy: progressing from youthful prodigy to the big stage of the Premier League is a hard road which can harm unfinished talents and Pochettino (who clearly rates Parrott) feels the teenager has to be protected, not pushed, right now.

Mick McCarthy this week admitted that he is an admirer of Parrott's talent while stressing that Parrott, still unable to (legally) vote or buy alcohol, has to prove himself in men's football before being considered for a senior role with Ireland.

The Ireland manager emerged from the international break content with his lot, but he has some big calls to make in the 18 days before he names his squad for the double-header against Georgia and Switzerland, and dealing with the clamour for Parrott's elevation is the least of his worries.

And that will make for some nervous Irish players in England who will spend the next two weeks wondering if their time with Ireland is over (for now) and if they've been usurped by younger, fitter players, or if they have a role to play.

Similarly, Keiren Westwood's habit of withdrawing from Ireland squads, only to be fit, Lazarus-like, in time to play for his club days later, could leave the 34-year-old permanently stuck on 21 caps, with younger 'keepers Mark Travers and Kieran O'Hara now further up the ladder. Westwood has complained before about his poor return of caps, but the first step to winning a cap is to turn up.

Despite all they have done in the past, the trio of Robbie Brady, Shane Long and James McCarthy will need to convince McCarthy that they have something to offer him as he plans that trip to Tbilisi and Geneva.

Brady has started just one league game for Burnley since December and has not played for club or country this season, though manager Sean Dyche confirmed yesterday that Brady should be fit enough to take a place in the squad for their game away to Brighton.

Long is lacking game-time with Southampton but is not injured. McCarthy decided that the 32-year-old was not at the fitness levels required for the last bout of Ireland duty and Long was left at home, a decision which will not have gone down well in the Long camp, as suggested by the defence of Long from his friend and former team-mate Kevin Doyle on TV this week.

Nathan Redmond will not be involved with Southampton this weekend so a door could open for Long, though his compatriot, teenage striker Michael Obafemi, could be the one to benefit.

As for James McCarthy, he is closing in on a most unwelcome anniversary: on October 9 (the day that the Ireland squad fly out to Georgia) it will be three years to the day since he last played for Ireland. Crystal Palace spent money on him a month ago but they are yet to be convinced of his fitness, as is Mick McCarthy.

Josh Cullen, Jack Byrne and James Collins lack the experience which the likes of Brady and Long can offer, and McCarthy will want experience for what will be a test of nerve as much as skill in Tbilisi. But the Josh, Jack and James act, all debutants against Bulgaria, made a mark.

Brady offered much to Ireland at his peak, not least from dead ball situations, but Conor Hourihane's emergence has seen the Cork man assume that role. First name on the Ireland team sheet for so long, Brady is no longer guaranteed a place in the squad unless match-fit.

Unless the trio of Brady, McCarthy and Long force themselves into the Ireland manager's thoughts in the next 18 days, they could find that convincing him of their worth is just as tough for them, despite a tally of 167 caps, as it is for a teen called Troy.

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