Wednesday 16 October 2019

Daniel McDonnell: The players' dressing room conversation and one moment from Hendrick that highlighted Ireland's progression

McCarthy happy with personality of his side after purposeful showing

Jeff Hendrick in action against Otar Kiteishvili of Georgia
Jeff Hendrick in action against Otar Kiteishvili of Georgia
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In the dressing room on Tuesday night, Mick McCarthy liked the sound of a discussion between a section of the Irish players.

"I heard them say, 'That's how an Irish team plays, that's how we want to play'," explained McCarthy. "We want to get up and press teams and stop them playing and consequently we end up playing further forward and playing in their half."

The bottom line was that the team had their personality back.

"We got after them on the press which gave us more time to play in their half," explained Robbie Brady, "We had worked on it a bit during the week."

There was nothing revolutionary about the system. McCarthy explained simply how he likes his centre-backs to mark a striker, the sitting midfielder to look after the opponent's playmaker, and the rest of his players to work hard on closing space when the ball is out of play so the other side is squeezed of space. After that, he gives his attacking players a licence to play.


David McGoldrick. Photo: Sportsfile
David McGoldrick. Photo: Sportsfile

It sounds fairly straightforward, but McCarthy's old charges have spoken consistently of why he is reliant on fit players to execute his strategy.

That's why he is generally leaning towards individuals who are involved regularly with their clubs. Brady had to settle for a reduced role across the double-header as a consequence of that.

If there was a moment that summed up the best part of the Georgia display, it was Jeff Hendrick's tackle that presented Conor Hourihane with an opportunity to open the scoring.

He failed to take it and would make up for it later on but it was a striking moment when contrasted with the struggles at the Aviva Stadium last year and through phases of the World Cup 2018 campaign.

The frustration in the UEFA Nations League drubbing at the hands of Wales in Cardiff was that some players pressed, while others seemed unsure of their role - a frustration that was highlighted by Jonathan Walters in the aftermath.

In October, Harry Arter and Cyrus Christie were part of the Irish midfield in a 3-5-2 which ended up being quite conservative. Christie did try and cover a lot of ground and close down bodies but his lack of comfort in the position was apparent.

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile

By contrast, Hendrick and Hourihane are hugely comfortable as central players breaking forward and the introduction of Glenn Whelan as a pivot gave them the security to advance. There appeared to be an understanding between the trio, and Georgia were ruffled and resorted to giving the ball away cheaply - they were also down a few bodies in this department which must be highlighted.

This facilitated full-backs Seamus Coleman and Enda Stevens getting across the halfway line in support of James McClean and Brady; that was worked on during the preparations. Coleman was on hand to convert a Stevens cross to put the game out of sight but Hendrick got there first from an offside position.

McClean and Brady actually found it a bit more difficult to hurt the Georgians with the ball at their feet, although McClean unsurprisingly grew stronger as the minutes ticked by, with his engine always likely to endear him to McCarthy. Brady ran out of steam.

There was a bit of finesse to go with the strategy, however, and it was provided by David McGoldrick who can now expect to start in the summer - whether it's as the number nine or the number ten.

At 31, the Sheffield United forward has blossomed. McCarthy said that he played a role in encouraging McGoldrick to play for Ireland when the approach came during their time together at Ipswich.

"I spoke to him and told him to do it, yeah absolutely," said McCarthy, not realising he would stand to benefit from it down the line.

"I wanted him to play here because, whether I came back or not, I wanted him to play for Ireland because he's a bloody good player.

"I've got a great rapport with Didzy. He's somebody who I admire, respect and trust and maybe that helps get a tune out of somebody."

As it happens, McGoldrick was ploughing a lone furrow in attack on the first time he went to watch him - he was playing for Coventry against Colchester.

"He was brilliant," recalled McCarthy, who seized upon the opportunity to bring him to Ipswich when Nottingham Forest let him go.

McGoldrick covered a lot of ground but, crucially, he managed to generally keep hold of the ball when he roved out of position. The supporters appreciated the overall effort and the argument for sticking with the Nottingham native is compelling.

Ireland will have to withstand pressure when they go to Denmark, with a pair of goalless draws on their last two visits borne out of sturdy defending and a shortage of ambition to get forward.

A lot can happen between now and the summer, but McGoldrick's ability to take the ball to feet and bring others into the game is a strength.

There should be alternatives to McClean and Brady available if they can avoid injury.

Another ex-Derry City winger - Ronan Curtis - is rated highly by McCarthy and can provide a physical threat. He would be comfortable on the left of a 4-3-3.

Meanwhile, Callum O'Dowda would have started if available for these matches. He's shining on the right side for Bristol City, although he is comfortable on either flank.

His form has dipped slightly over the past month, but his overall form across the campaign has attracted admirers and he will be a big part of the road ahead.

Manager Lee Johnson has suggested that he can work on some defensive aspects of his game, yet O'Dowda has the pace to make an impact for a team that will have to cover kilometres to get to where they want to be.

James McCarthy is another player to be factored into the equation as an alternative to Whelan.

He's younger and would be considered as more of a box-to-box player that can also function in the holding role.

Yet the impact of injuries makes it hard to confidently predict what he can offer whereas Whelan is actually playing regularly for his club in a demanding league.

That said, Aston Villa's only route to promotion is via the play-offs so Whelan and Hourihane will be aiming to join up late with the group in the summer. In that event, the Glaswegian would have scope to shine.

"People are asking me about momentum," said his namesake, "Maybe we've got a bit of momentum now and actually believe we can win games."

Denmark coach Age Hareide famously described O'Neill's Ireland as "easy to read but difficult to beat".

He may soon encounter a more authentic version of the stereotype.

Irish Independent

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