Friday 18 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Mick McCarthy's side put smiles on fans' faces again as hosts' barbs ignite Irish fire'

Comment

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Even if all Mick McCarthy can do is offer some hope and inspiration to players and supporters so often derided for their delusions, then perhaps it might feel OK to smile about Irish soccer again.

Rather than being defined by their limitations, McCarthy allows this team to defy them.

How else could Glenn Whelan, who jokes about playing for Real Madrid, and Christian Eriksen, who dearly wants to play for Real Madrid, share the spills of such thrilling battle?

True, Denmark may have owned the game's best chances but it was Ireland who ended the game in a counter-attacking whirl, sensing a dramatic winner when defeat had seemed their fate just moments before.

Victory would have defied logic but there is no question which team will have been more heartened after this latest meeting of European football's most unlikely rivals.

Irish heads may have dropped when Denmark struck late; instead, they were held high. Bravery does not have to be reckless; it can be borne of quiet resolution.

Mick McCarthy's team selection, unchanged from that against Georgia, predictably offered little surprise, copper-fastening the sense of security he now seeks to provide.

In a time when he is constantly being probed to subtly undermine the enervating end days of his predecessor's reign, it was, though, instructive to recall the last time Ireland had benefited from a consistent selection policy.

That was during Euro 2016 in France, albeit the team that defeated Italy's second-string was not of sufficient quality to repeat the feat against the eventual runners-up.

Many of that cast still remain, save a few obvious exceptions, the injured Shane Long, the retired Daryl Murphy and Stephen Ward.

But four of the back five who started in Lille three summers ago did so again last night; so too James McClean, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady.

The boys of summer are trying to find their voice again.

A little voice inside our heads might say, 'don't look back, you can never look back' but there is a real sense of the new man in charge trying to recapture a sense of those so brief but halcyon days.

McCarthy may seek a more enlightened approach but he is no less stubborn than O'Neill; which is precisely why he doesn't change his team, excluding the Premier League's leading Irishman Matt Doherty while finding a place for Whelan, now deemed surplus to requirements after Aston Villa regained their top-flight status.

McCarthy found a balance against Georgia and it is important for him, and the confidence of his players, that he retains it; the absence of certainty, so crippling, no longer exists.

Intention is key, and despite being the away side, their aim is to try and produce some patterns of play when they have the ball, and effect competent, collective efforts to retrieve it when they don't.

Some habits don't change; Shane Duffy remains Ireland's best scoring threat. Denmark, expectantly, have more of them but Duffy is defiant in the air and on the ground.

Ireland mixed their game well, one arrowed 60-yard switch from Duffy gloriously trapped by an advancing Seamus Coleman while Conor Hourihane's deft left foot has a keen radar, too.

Eriksen was the obvious threat and Whelan shadowed him.

Eriksen tried to take Whelan out of the game occasionally - ironic considering the Danish barbs that have been thrown around in the past - wandering away from the No 10 role to allow Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen to offer a dangerous running threat.

Our familiar hosts have clearly irked many of those in McCarthy's dressing-room, with condescending talk of Ireland's footballing habits, and James McClean, as is his wont, was not afraid to offer his two cents after the game.

"Their players weren't complimentary towards us in the build-up to the game. We wanted to prove a point," McClean said.

"It's not nice when professionals criticise you. Fair enough they beat us 5-1 but we've drawn the other four games we've played recently.

"They're not that much better than us themselves, are they?

"It was a brilliant header from Shane in the end. It helps when you've got someone not afraid to attack the ball in both boxes. The big man has come up trumps again."

Ireland goal-scorer Duffy joined McClean in hitting out at Denmark's snipes at Ireland, as he suggested the negative comments inspired such a spirited display.

"We wouldn't have said what they said about another country," said Duffy.

"It might be their tactics, but that was motivation for us to go out there and prove a point to them it was their tactics, but this is just a game of football. Words are always said, but everyone should have respect for each other out there."

Duffy could not wipe the smile from his face after it was suggested that his equalising header was perfectly executed.

"That header came right off the sweet spot," declared Duffy.

"To score in front of the fans made it special. Those fans deserve something and a point is a good point here. They are a good team and we now have to take this on to Monday."

Irish Independent

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