Wednesday 12 December 2018

David Kelly: 'Swiss role pivotal as helpful Euro draw offers Mick McCarthy shot at fairytale redemption swansong'

 

McCarthy: Thumbs up. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / UEFA via Sportsfile
McCarthy: Thumbs up. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / UEFA via Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Regardless of one's opinion of Mick McCarthy - or indeed the wisdom of him returning to a role he last held some 16 years ago - even at 59, the former Ireland captain is not too old to enjoy some beginner's luck.

Yesterday's draw in Dublin, which might have afforded McCarthy's team as lopsided a draw as the colourful Convention Centre's quirky architectural design, offers a realistic opportunity for Ireland to avoid one of those perilous play-offs that have dotted its recent international history.

The draw afforded McCarthy more than a generous dollop of the luck beloved of generals in need of a helping hand from fate.

Even the cursor on the fixtures computer winked compliance; Gibraltar away and Georgia at home, a six-point start and then the potential carrot of a home clash against Denmark to finish with.

Barring a miraculous resurgence by a posse of European football's lesser lights - odds on winning the EuroMillions are slightly more generous - the side that he has not yet seen kick a ball in anger are almost certain of a play-off spot.

Drawing Gibraltar will, despite obsequious doffing of hats, serve up an easy double which would not be the case were, say, Azerbaijan or, worse, Kosovo, tossed into the mix.

And a five-team group, instead of one featuring six teams, will allow a manager presented with such a concertinaed contract of employment a chance, on two occasions, to gingerly explore different options.

But it will not be the teams below Ireland in the seeding which should occupy the manager's minds - Georgia are fitful but inferior - rather those above him, namely Denmark and Switzerland.

Four of the last seven Irish bosses have lost their jobs after failing to win against these two countries.

However, McCarthy should not be overly concerned with their threats but renew acquaintance with those possessed by his own team.

For it were these qualities, largely ignored by his predecessor, which ultimately cost Martin O'Neill his job - and handed McCarthy the managerial lifeline that offers both himself, and Ireland, a route back to the big time.

McCarthy's pragmatism will avoid any sense of smugness at avoiding the fate of, say, Michael O'Neill and Northern Ireland.

Rather he will re-route his motivation to ensure he can seek to maximise the resources at his disposal, and with much more confidence than that possessed by his increasingly stale predecessor.

Denmark inflicted terror into Irish hearts but this was prompted by a spectacular managerial meltdown in Dublin a year ago, the inevitable result of a lack of preparation and inconsistency in selection and tactics.

McCarthy's greatest strength will be not to be afflicted in a similar fashion; he will hold fast and doggedly to an unchanging system and a relatively limited central core of players who will be familiarised with their roles.

24 teams will qualify for Euro 2020 - only 13 from Europe will make the World Cup two years later, a much stiffer task is clearly in store for manager-in-waiting Stephen Kenny.

McCarthy demurred when asked had he unfinished business when appointed but he did reveal yesterday that he had already decided to resign before losing to Switzerland in 2002 (he eventually left a month later).

As fate would have it, the Swiss seem destined to feature in his redemption swansong. If the rest of his journey seems plotted by fate, he knows that luck can only take you so far. McCarthy must now make it work for him.

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