Tuesday 17 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'McCarthy's fate rests on Ireland restoring the Dublin fear factor'

Forget the group table - pressure is on Ireland to make home advantage count against a familiar foe tonight

Happy campers: James McClean, Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman share a joke while training at Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Happy campers: James McClean, Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman share a joke while training at Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Switzerland in Dublin. Mick McCarthy can play down the significance of history, but he can remember the statistic.

The loss that preceded his exit from the Ireland job in the autumn of 2002 was referenced ahead of tonight's Dublin showdown and McCarthy showed that one consequence of that result was fresh in the mind.

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"It would have been nice to have left unbeaten in qualifying games," he said.

He was referring to home matches in Dublin, the strong point of his first stint in the gig and - by coincidence - a weak point for this generation of Irish players. That has to change.

September was kind to him in the past. The famous 2001 win over Holland was mentioned on a couple of occasions this week.

Go back two years previously, and Ireland did the business against Yugoslavia. That Euro 2000 campaign had also kicked off 12 months earlier with a significant September victory over Croatia in Dublin.

It was the away days that cancelled them out. Two grim trips to Macedonia. Painful late concessions in Croatia and Yugoslavia. Play-off exits were decided on away soil, much as better home outcomes could have increased Irish prospects heading to Belgium and Turkey.

The advance past Iran that booked a ticket to the 2002 World Cup was built on a definitive display in D4. McCarthy had the ability to make the old Lansdowne a happy home.

His departure was decided upon before his losing farewell against the Swiss. The seeds of that exit were sown far from home. You're probably familiar with the story.

Nostalgic references have minimal motivation value. It won't be long before the senior dressing-room is populated by players that weren't even born for Jason McAteer's finest moment.

But there are old-school attributes that can transfer across generations to turn a venue into an intimidating environment for visitors.

Ireland temporarily got their act together in this regard under Martin O'Neill, sending Germany and Bosnia packing in 2015 to ensure participation in the Euros in France.

Momentum

Old habits returned for the Russia campaign with ponderous and tentative openings a feature of the games with Wales and Austria that halted momentum.

Serbia came to town to withstand an early rally and take full points, thus sending O'Neill's men towards a two-legged showdown with Denmark that ended in a chaotic mess and an unimaginable result for an Irish side on their own patch.

This campaign is all about the opportunity to play a major tournament in Dublin, and it's difficult to envisage Ireland making it automatically without registering a home success over either the Swiss tonight or Denmark in November.

McCarthy has admitted as much, answering honestly when it was put to him that there was more scrutiny on the guests because they dropped points at home to Denmark in March.

"We're under pressure to get a good result because it's our home game," he stressed. "We have to do something because we have to go and visit them in October."

His assessment is fair. It's skewing reality to look at the group table and say that the Swiss are playing catch-up because Ireland have a six-point advantage over them.

The top seeds have two games in hand and haven't taken on Gibraltar yet. Any lead is imagined. Ireland have to produce a knockout punch somewhere along the line.

McCarthy will have a specific game-plan to cope with a Swiss side minus Xherdan Shaqiri, but it's obvious what the overall approach will be.

He has noted that the Swiss like to dominate possession and play the ball out from the back, with Arsenal's Granit Xhaka a focal point for their midfield play in deep areas.

The strategy will be to put them under pressure, with McCarthy stressing that any talk of aggression shouldn't have negative connotations.

His assessment that Manchester City and Liverpool are the two most aggressive sides in the Premier League is hard to quibble with.

Out of possession, they are relentless. McCarthy will demand that from his team, yet the age-old question will revolve around what they do with the ball at their feet.

Callum Robinson sat out training as a precaution yesterday, with the FAI indicating that the Sheffield United man should be fine. Ireland need him. With James McClean sure to be a busy presence on the left side, Robinson would offer something different on the right as support for David McGoldrick.

Seamus Coleman discussed his burgeoning partnership with Robinson, noting how the latter's ability to drift inside creates space for the Irish skipper to overlap.

With Switzerland operating with three at the back, a packed midfield and two wing-backs, it's vital that Ireland use the big pitch and pull Vladimir Petkovic's side out of shape.

The Swiss collapse against Denmark, with a three-goal lead surrendered in six minutes, was characterised by an inability to deal with crosses. They have a strong side, but a fraught year has raised questions about their resolve.

Back in 2002, they capitalised on Irish disharmony. Now is the time for McCarthy to return the favour.

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