Thursday 22 August 2019

David Kelly: 'Copenhagen return offers prospect of a new beginning'

Ireland under McCarthy are more coherent two years on from last visit to Denmark

John Egan during a Republic of Ireland training session at Telia Parken in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
John Egan during a Republic of Ireland training session at Telia Parken in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Sean Maguire, second from left, leads the warm up during Ireland training at Telia Parken Copenhagen, last night. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When Ireland visited Copenhagen two years ago, it was winter and the pretty streetscapes were soaked by rain. This week, the mercury has soared towards 30 degrees.

Cities present a different version of themselves according to the weather. We left here in November 2017 with little lasting memory of the place, or, indeed, of the grisly 0-0 draw when Nicklas Bendtner's post-match attire provided the most colour on a drab evening.

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We didn't fully know it then, even if some of us had foretold the day for quite some time, but that outing would signal the beginning of the end for Martin O'Neill once the Danes had thumped his side in the second leg of that year's World Cup play-off.

Remarkably, O'Neill managed to limp on for several months, clearly borrowing from his FAI employers their fondness for stubborn recalcitrance.

Now, as Ireland return to a city bathed in searing summer heat, the dark clouds of one era have been supplanted by the cheery sunshine of a familiar figure.

Mick McCarthy's task is, on the face of it, a suitable one, an uncomplicated, short-term mission to secure qualification for next year's European Championships, ensuring that an Irish team will be able to participate in a tournament they are co-hosting.

The irony is that the very people who made the decision to dispense with O'Neill and introduce a cack-handed succession plan, which will see Stephen Kenny assume the reins in 2021, are now utterly discredited.

Nonetheless, a good start - six points against Gibraltar and Georgia - has allowed McCarthy to enjoy a second honeymoon fling. Events this evening may either offer some perspective on the challenge that awaits him or embolden his squad still more, with Monday's turkey shoot against Gibraltar to come.

McCarthy has always been one to absorb the pressure, rather than become inhibited by it. It always seemed as if O'Neill was simply incapable of taking a step back in order to get a good feeling for the problems that confronted him. He didn't understand it enough to see a simple solution.

McCarthy's methods befit his character. His manner is one of utterly uncomplicated simplicity.

His team line-up has not yet been published but, unlike his predecessor, there is no prospect of the players discovering it a mere hour before kick-off.

Indeed, he has virtually admitted that he has known his team for some time now, certainly since they congregated last weekend and perhaps even formulated during last month's get-together in Portugal.

He has boldly asserted he would take a 0-0 if offered it but his side won't play for one, as those before him often seemed to.

There is a comforting certainty about his approach, declaring quite positively that he was happy his team selection was set in stone while he has already planned his substitutions, even in cases of injury.

O'Neill, in contrast, was a constant tinkerer in both selection and tactics, even if the ascetic style rarely deviated, and it was obvious that there was never enough preparation on even the most rudimentary elements.

McCarthy, who closed one of this week's training sessions to the media, will have been able to apply himself to a coherent approach all week.

There may be doubts about whether Ireland have sufficient quality to trouble the Danes but there will be none in the manager's mind regarding his team's preparation.

His sessions are always purposeful, with clear intent and instruction, compared to the often listless affairs which O'Neill, often at a distance, presided over during his time.

Seamus Coleman revealed yesterday the players' unhappiness with sessions when McCarthy started, but they were adjusted and the effervescence against Georgia resulted.

McCarthy is no managerial genius, nor are his side a magnificent football side but, as the limited evidence of the Georgia match hints, all are more than capable of extracting the maximum from their available attributes.

"There is only so much the manager can do, on the pitch it boils down to us, we've prepared well and we need to be brave," says Coleman, speaking just metres from the white lines of the Parken Stadium.

That courage, once cowed, is now encouraged. That is really all the Irish supporter wants for their team.

"I know where all the players play," McCarthy said last night. "I know what they're good at, I know what they're not so good at."

Two years ago, Copenhagen marked the sense of an ending. Cautiously, Ireland's return heralds the possibility of a new beginning.

There may be faltering steps but any slip-ups will be due to a lack of quality as opposed to a lack of effort.

Irish Independent

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