Sunday 21 April 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Unproven strikers must take their chances to impress open-minded McCarthy'

David McGoldrick. Photo: Sportsfile
David McGoldrick. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

At the first Irish squad announcement of his second stint, Mick McCarthy stressed that he wasn't going to bemoan the absence of a new Robbie Keane in his ranks.

Martin O'Neill had frequently referenced how he would like to work with a younger version of the Tallaght man. McCarthy will not be going down that road, although Keane's skills are never likely to be far from the mind given that he's part of his coaching staff.

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The hope is that he can help to pass some pointers onto the next generation of Irish strikers; he's got involved in that on the training ground already.

Shane Long's withdrawal through injury has guaranteed that McCarthy will be relying on unproven international strikers for his first double-header.

His four front men - David McGoldrick, Seán Maguire, Aiden O'Brien and James Collins - have a grand total of 14 caps between them with O'Brien's header in a friendly with Poland last September the only goal.

That said, some doubt surrounded whether Long was going to get the nod this week given the new manager's seeming preference for players in form with their clubs.

He applied that policy with his squad selection, so it's hardly a leap to assume that the same policy will be applied to his starting XI.

Granted, Ireland should be capable of dealing with Gibraltar in any circumstances but Georgia are a tricky opponent and a run of four matches without a goal under O'Neill raised issues about this group's ability to create chances - never mind take them.

Hence, the need to hit on the right formula this week and use Gibraltar as a stepping stone.

McGoldrick is a strong contender to start, yet he's more of a number ten than a number nine.

He has worked with McCarthy at Ipswich and his best football there came in a partnership with Daryl Murphy - a player that the Barnsley man was keen to lure out of international retirement.

Murphy had his best goalscoring spell alongside McGoldrick.

The Sheffield United player has struck 12 goals this year so he's a threat in his own right.

Yet it's hard to see him leading the line.

McCarthy has consistently referenced McGoldrick's technical ability, and his main brief could well be to operate as a creative force.

He's a natural fit to operate in the hole between midfield and attack. Robbie Brady is an alternative and that is probably Jack Byrne's natural habitat too with a view to the longer term.

Late call-up O'Brien is not an out-and-out striker either, much as he has filled in there in green when required. At Millwall, he can operate wide and behind a front man.

But when it comes to picking an individual to play through the middle, then it appears to boil down to a straight choice between Maguire and newcomer Collins.

Maguire has shown his versatility with Preston, operating on the left of a front three when needed, yet he's consistently said that he is happiest as a number nine.

Alex Neil has restored him to that berth in recent weeks and results have improved in tandem.

Maguire can explode into life playing off the shoulder of the last man. "There's only two speeds with me," he said in October. "Walking or sprinting."

That ability to race onto through balls lends itself to a pairing with McGoldrick, who should have the vision to pick out the ex-Cork City star.

Collins is a slightly different option, strong on both sides and a real physical threat in the area. There's more to his game than goals.

"I like to get hold of the ball and bring people into play," said the 28-year-old earlier this week. "But I'm confident if the ball is in the box, that I'll put it away."

He's never played at Championship level and that's why he's got a bit more to prove in training whereas McCarthy seems confident about what Maguire can do - yet is conscious he needs to be minded due to his injury record.

The pursuit of Patrick Bamford and the calls to the veteran Murphy indicates that the 60-year-old is open-minded.

Nevertheless, this week's hopefuls have the opportunity to show that Ireland already have in-house solutions.

The pairing of McGoldrick and Maguire appeals with Collins as the Plan B if blanks are being fired and Ireland need to go direct.

With Long and forgotten man Jon Walters absent, this week is the window for the untried to become trusted.

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