Tuesday 15 October 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'The five key calls facing Mick McCarthy ahead of Ireland's date with the Danes'

Robbie Brady's form remains a concern. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Robbie Brady's form remains a concern. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Mick McCarthy says he already knows his team for Copenhagen on Friday, so it would be a stretch to suggest he will be tossing and turning over his selection this week.

It's safe to say that his players will have a fair idea of the game-plan before Friday night too, a contrast from Martin O'Neill's approach when it came to announcing his plans.

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Richard Keogh was injured in a car crash, according to reports
Richard Keogh was injured in a car crash, according to reports

McCarthy was happy with the Irish performance against Georgia and it's clear that he has no real intention of changing a winning team.

Still, there are a couple of scenarios and situations that he needs to figure out before entering the match that will shape the mood of the Irish summer.

THE ROBBIE BRADY DILEMMA

The star of Euro 2016 has barely played for Burnley this year and his form is a niggling concern.

Matt Doherty is in a tricky situation. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Matt Doherty is in a tricky situation. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

He was always likely to be picked by Martin O'Neill because of his set-piece prowess, but Ireland are well served in that department with Conor Hourihane.

Still, the Dubliner remains a player of top-flight quality and McCarthy did at least arrive with a clear enough sense that he viewed Brady as an option for the right side of midfield.

After missing out against Gibraltar, he didn't set the world alight against Georgia but he was more comfortable there than Matt Doherty and the balance with Seamus Coleman was better.

The one caveat here is that Callum O'Dowda wasn't available for the March double-header and the Bristol City player is highly rated by management.

Josh Cullen has joined Charlton
Josh Cullen has joined Charlton

However, match practice is a serious fear as he hasn't played since early March with injury and a rumoured dispute around his club future checking the 24-year-old's momentum.

THE STRIKING SOLUTION

The hamstring injury suffered in training by Shane Long has removed one decision for McCarthy - but it weakens his overall hand.

Long had burst back into the picture with an impressive end to the season with Southampton, yet the suspicion lingered that he would have found himself cast as an impact sub on Friday. McCarthy hinted as much.

Shane Long has been left out of the Ireland squad by manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Shane Long has been left out of the Ireland squad by manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The Tipperary man also missed the March window, which started with a debate around Sean Maguire's suitability for a leading role but he suffered a frustrating night in Gibraltar.

As it happens, it was a player that management trusted - David McGoldrick - who ended up seizing the opportunity with a high quality all-round display against Georgia that won over the Aviva Stadium faithful.

The Sheffield United player holds the ball up well and retains possession better than the other options. With Long out of the equation, Maguire is a leading candidate to come off the bench if Ireland are in bother, although his clubmate Callum Robinson is a talent and Scott Hogan has played his way back into contention. Ronan Curtis offers a physical threat.

THE PLAY-OFF HANGOVER

Shane Duffy is almost certain to start every game under McCarthy if he avoids injury, and the new boss was strong in his conviction that Richard Keogh was the right man to partner him.

The slight concern with Keogh is the impact of another play-off final defeat with Derby, a devastating blow for the 32-year-old who must now reasonably wonder if he will ever operate at Premier League level.

By contrast, John Egan is headed there next term with Sheffield United and his spirits will naturally be high. The flip side of the argument is that he's played all of his football in a back three whereas Keogh and Duffy have experience of playing together as a centre-half partnership.

Keogh might also be a bit sharper given that he's had a short break compared to Egan's lengthy hiatus - the European finals last week demonstrated how a three-week break can impact on levels.

Add in Keogh's experience and he's the favourite to get the nod.

"I don't see any problems with Richard," said McCarthy yesterday.

THE CULLEN ANGLE

McCarthy has brought up Josh Cullen unprompted on several occasions, evidently impressed with how the Charlton midfielder has performed with his club and trained with his country. The West Ham player helped his loan club to promotion with a starring role at Wembley and has reported for Irish duty at the top of his game.

McCarthy has said there were no plans to shake up his midfield so we can expect to see Glenn Whelan as a shield behind Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick.

Cullen (23) is the bolter that has put himself in the picture. Declan Rice's good friend will surely start the Gibraltar match. The way McCarthy is talking, it wouldn't be a massive shock if he was called upon off the bench in Copenhagen either.

MATT DOHERTY CONUNDRUM

McCarthy said last week that he is committed to sticking with his 4-3-3/4-5-1 and he doesn't believe Doherty is suited to a wide berth in that system on the basis of Gibraltar, so this leaves the Wolves player in a tricky situation. It would be odd if a player of his quality didn't have a role to play in Copenhagen.

Doherty suggested yesterday that he still believes he could play on the same side as Coleman, asserting that Gibraltar wasn't a "total disaster". That was a match where Ireland were expected to force the issue and it's possible that the away side could find themselves in a position on Friday where springing Doherty for Brady could suit the scenario.

If the opposition have a bit more of the ball, then the Wolves wing-back could actually be a useful outlet. With Enda Stevens established at left full, it's plausible that most of Doherty's minutes will come in a position that McCarthy has doubts about.

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