Thursday 14 November 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'All set for huge Denmark qualifier - but New Zealand friendly could prove crucial too'

Crowd will be in full voice when Danes arrive - but team's performance will dictate mood

In focus: Ireland manager Mick McCarthy answers questions watched by cameramen in Dublin yesterday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
In focus: Ireland manager Mick McCarthy answers questions watched by cameramen in Dublin yesterday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was a strange affair at SSE Airtricity headquarters yesterday. Fourteen days after the defeat to Switzerland, Mick McCarthy was in town to name his squad for a game that was 20 days away.

The countdown to the showdown with Denmark starts here, although a good number of the 39 players on the provisional list will not actually end up in the country for the Euro 2020 qualifier.

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McCarthy said himself that he would prefer a more businesslike squad reveal closer to the time, but sometimes the scheduling of these affairs are outside of the manager's control.

As the title sponsors of the League of Ireland, Airtricity's contract also gives them rights with regard to the senior international team. When McCarthy finished the formalities with the press yesterday, he was due to go in for a question and answer session with the company's staff.

Chances are he enjoyed that more than the regular set of press interactions. Indeed, it's a safe shout that he said as much.

Let's be honest; nobody really cares about the interactions between a manager and the media.

It's only relevant in the context of the insight it offers into a mindset.

What was apparent around the double-header with Georgia and Switzerland is that McCarthy believes he is doing as well as expected with the resources at his disposal.

And he essentially backed up that point at his latest appearance, in a jovial enough search for an encouraging spin heading into Denmark's arrival on these shores for a match that Ireland must win to qualify for Euro 2020 automatically.

"Big the game up as what it is, a great opportunity for us, and one that we can win," was the thrust of McCarthy's argument.

The 60-year-old stands by his assertion that everybody would have taken this position a year ago. "I would. Would you?" he said, addressing the room. "Yeah, you would, because you don't think we're that good anyway.

"None of you think we are that good or the players are that good. That was the feeling before I came in. We're the third best team group and we can win it (qualification) on this game."

The issue for McCarthy's argument is that repeating the view that Ireland are the third best team in the group could be construed as a self-serving brand of negativity.

That was the language that peppered Martin O'Neill's final days in the job, and it wore people down.

Ultimately, the downbeat mode between Tbilisi and Geneva was actually borne from the viewpoint that Ireland's players are capable of doing better than what they showed in the abject draw in Georgia.

There is a positive slant to offering the opinion that the likes of Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick are capable of much better on the strength of club displays, or that the rookie Aaron Connolly was worthy of a lengthier chance to hurt that Georgian defence. The inability of certain individuals to translate their weekly work to the green shirt is an issue that existed before McCarthy and it may well exist after he goes.

Therefore, it's hard to suspend that frustration just because the league table still reads ok. If there's no acceptance that Ireland should aspire to be better, then belief levels will be drained.

McCarthy's basic point is that he will take the grief that comes his way if Denmark succeed in getting the result they need.

"I'll take the shite if it goes wrong," he said. "But I'd like to think it is billed as a game we could win."

He should have no concerns on that front. No matter what is said in the build-up, it's a banker that the Aviva will be packed and giddy ahead of kick-off on Monday fortnight.

For all that Ireland have struggled to truly make the venue a fortress, there's been nothing wrong with the mood ahead of the games of genuine substance.

Indeed, the bore draw against the Danes in the first leg of the World Cup decider was forgotten when O'Neill's side roared out of the blocks in the decider and took the lead courtesy of Shane Duffy.

Everything is set up for a similar buzz next month. As it happens, the friendly against New Zealand four days before could turn out to be quite useful.

They are a limited enough side and it should give McCarthy the opportunity to generate excitement.

Matt Doherty will get a chance to fill Seamus Coleman's shoes and build good vibes around his Irish career. Young guns Connolly and Troy Parrott can put their hand up.

It's an opportunity to build momentum but, either way, the atmosphere for Denmark will look after itself.

McCarthy and his players will then get the chance to write their own history.

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