Wednesday 18 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'How a curious agreement leaves Mick McCarthy in a no-win situation'

Excitement about new crop poses awkward questions in context of handover

Mick McCarthy has to focus solely on qualification for next year’s European Championships as a new generation of talent emerges. Photo: Sportsfile
Mick McCarthy has to focus solely on qualification for next year’s European Championships as a new generation of talent emerges. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was the final act of what's turned out to be an encouraging week for the Irish teams at both senior and U-21 level.

But Mick McCarthy still ended up leaving the Aviva Stadium press conference on Tuesday on a slightly tetchy note having answered with a firm 'no' when asked - again - if there was any chance of his handover to Stephen Kenny being 'kicked further down the road' now that both sides were doing reasonably well.

This followed on from queries about the thrilling win for Kenny's charges in Sweden and the prospect of senior involvement for their leading lights, most notably goal-scoring hero Troy Parrott.

The questions continued in a huddle away from the stage, and the tone of exchanges were a reminder of how the succession plan that was created at short notice by John Delaney and the FAI hierarchy has left McCarthy in an uncomfortable position.

If anything, the evolution of Kenny's side have added to the awkwardness because they have become such a talking point around the senior gatherings. Even though the old guard aren't doing much wrong.

McCarthy's unbeaten record with the senior team will make it harder for him to face up to the fact that the clock is ticking on his second stint.

Favour

He pointedly said that he did the U-21 boss a favour by leaving Parrott and Aaron Connolly with them for their competitive fixture in Kalmar rather than bringing them in for a meaningless joust with the Bulgarians. He noted wryly enough that Kenny had left Parrott on the bench but it all worked out in the end.

Any such comments are left open to interpretation because of the curious nature of the agreement.

McCarthy does keep talking about how Kenny has the 'best gig of all' because he is building his own side in the background. And the more he speaks in those terms, the more that the tone and demeanour of his words will be analysed.

Admittedly, it's not his fault that he keeps getting asked about it.

And it's not his fault that some media reports mentioned the idea that the uncertainty at FAI board level has cast doubt on the timeline of Kenny's arrival into the big job.

Indeed, there were even suggestions that some FAI officials had expressed concerns about Kenny's communication skills. Those words didn't go unnoticed by those close to Kenny. Nor have the extra pairs of eyes that have turned up to watch some of his press conferences.

However, the renewed purpose at U-21 level and the exceptional level of the display in Sweden, with Ireland dominant in terms of chances created and possession, has only served to increase the enthusiasm level about the next regime.

Kenny has earned this opportunity, and should be afforded the kind of time which isn't available to McCarthy in his job description.

The 60-year-old has said that part of his brief was to settle things down and he's undoubtedly succeeded. If he takes Ireland all the way to the Euro 2020 finals next summer, then there will be plenty of people coming out to sympathise with his plight.

A plethora of his former players have graduated to a prominent status as pundits and it's clear that several are mystified by his exit - especially to make way for a character who wouldn't be particularly well-known in their world and takes a bit of getting used to.

Kenny's ex-players don't get those gigs and that will leave him exposed to digs when his time comes.

What's clear is that the ex-Dundalk boss has managed to communicate a message to a talented group that is actually closer to an U-19 team in terms of their age profile.

Robbie Keane's position is intriguing, given his confirmation that his contract extends into the 2022 campaign. Kenny is believed to be working off a firm understanding that he will be able to bring in his own backroom staff.

It would already appear he's struck up an effective partnership with Keith Andrews and Jim Crawford. Keane's views on Kenny are unclear.

Any mischievous suggestions that the scheduling of the transition could be tweaked - or possibly even abandoned - have failed to take into account just how disastrously that could all play out within a very short space of time.

It would be one thing to propose the idea if Kenny's U-21's were bombing. Now that they are thriving, an emotional decision to push things back would lead to carnage if McCarthy's charges suddenly stopped delivering on the results-based package. And that's what they are offering, with late comebacks in Copenhagen and against the Swiss highlighting how they have found spirit and structure within a back-to-basics plan.

There are contractual considerations to factor into the equation too, but the whataboutery is a predictable consequence of a quirky deal. McCarthy was unappreciated the first time around and it is harsh that he's now cast as a character keeping the seat warm for the next big thing, while an extremely promising generation develops.

The glass half-full equation on his standing is that reaching Euro 2020 would allow him to leave on a massive high in contrast with late 2002, but it's inevitable that if Ireland achieve that goal, repetitive queries regarding the broader picture might just sour the mood.

There's a few leaps being taken to imagine this scenario, though.

Come next month, McCarthy will be immersed in an away double header with a tight turnaround. The U-21 team have points on the board ahead of the visit of Italy and a trip to Iceland. It will be a demanding week for the seniors with eyes firmly fixed on one prize.

McCarthy will name his squad on October 1 and he hinted strongly that Parrott and Aaron Connolly would need to do something significant for their clubs in the intervening period to get themselves on the plane.

He stressed that Kenny is very much aware of what would happen in this instance.

"I'll have to name my squad, Stephen has to name his squad," he said. "I don't get that much time, do I? I get time to go in and play games. I've got eight (qualifying) games."

McCarthy's must-win brief has left him in a no-win situation. Expect more discomfort as this one plays itself out.

Irish Independent

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