'If this is what they want to do, I'm cool with it' - Mick McCarthy
Time limit on second term tests diplomacy of returning Irish boss
Mick McCarthy was supposed to spend his Sunday on a Sky Sports couch talking about the work of other managers.
Instead, the 59-year-old found himself at Lansdowne Road speaking about the manager who will replace him in the job that he is just starting.
Not your average gig, this.
The eagerness to accept an appointment with a difference says a lot about McCarthy's desire to come back and manage his country.
It should have felt like Christmas morning. He had long waited for this opportunity to pop up at the right time.
But, of course, Christmas is always followed by St Stephen's Day. And it's Stephen Kenny who will be at the Aviva today posing for the photos and speaking about his guaranteed ascension from the U-21 job to the senior position when Ireland's interest in Euro 2020 draws to a close.
The Dundalk manager will have a contract to take him up to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, but good results could extend his involvement beyond that.
With McCarthy, there is no such option. "No" was the simple answer when asked if there was any flexibility in his arrangement.
Across the course of a public press conference and a lengthy conversation with newspaper journalists, the experienced football man allowed himself to speculate on various possibilities. "If" was thrown into a few sentences.
What if Kenny ripped it up with the U-21 side and was offered a gig in England? That was the best case scenario.
What if McCarthy bombed and was shown the door before the end of regular 2020 qualifying? Well, then the whole prospect of staying on would be deemed irrelevant anyway.
All McCarthy can control now is how he leaves his second stint in charge. Regrets linger over how his first one drew to a sorry close.
He admitted that when he was first sounded out about the job by the FAI, he was thinking beyond 2020. But now a tournament that will be partially staged in Dublin appeals as a happy ending.
"Who doesn't want two terms?" he said. "The reality is that I think that international managers should be given one term. Perhaps they should be given the chance to take it into the next term if they do well. But I knew that wasn't the case so I accepted it and was fine with it.
"And I also think... I've seen it before... look I should have resigned after the World Cup in 2002. I'd had a good World Cup and I'd had five years and I should have gone.
"If I've done well and we've qualified there'll be something else for me down the line," he continued, after an earlier quip about maybe taking a retirement offer from China at that juncture.
"If we do badly and don't qualify then you guys wouldn't want me...nobody would. So it's not such a bad thing. And good luck to Stephen. I looked at his list of achievements - pretty damn good. And I think It would be great for Irish football if he could take over a team that's doing well.
"So I don't see it as added pressure at all. I said already, you get 11 months as a Championship manager. That's pretty much the average tenure. I'm getting two years."
- Read more: Mick McCarthy on 'cheeky b****x' Robbie Keane, speaking to Declan Rice next month and handing over the job to Stephen Kenny in 2020
The FAI have denied reports that McCarthy initially agreed a two-year deal with the option of another two held by the association - thus meaning they would be open to a payout from 2020.
McCarthy said he knew what was on the table when he met Delaney and the FAI's High Performance Director Ruud Dokter on Friday.
He was pressed again on whether there was a temptation to tell them where to go. With a smile, he said that a 36-year-old McCarthy might have taken an alternative approach. His next birthday will be his 60th. Three grandchildren have offered perspective. Experience fuelled his response.
"They might have told me to leave it and I wanted the job," he said. "They could have said: take it or leave it - and they could have said, 'see you' and they'll get somebody else. They might have gone and given it to Stephen, and I wanted it. Honestly, it's a real honour, privilege and pleasure to be getting it back.
"I did have all those questions: 'Well, what happens if I do well, if we qualify?' It's a luxury problem to have."
And that is a crucial distinction. For all the references to being that bit older and wiser, this is about rebirth rather than retirement.
He referenced Neil Warnock - another great survivor - who is 10 years older and back in Premier League company following another promotion. McCarthy would love to get back into that company. He takes pride at his track record in a cut-throat industry.
He stepped into the firing line as a 33-year-old at Millwall in 1992, and has pretty much been in work since then. The nine months between his sacking by Wolves and appointment by Ipswich in 2012 was his longest gap.
Seven months have elapsed since he parted with Ipswich. McCarthy's desire for a break had a shelf life, as he explained in his own inimitable manner. How long until he missed it?
"When I jet washed the jet washer," he says. "Once I jet washed it and it was clean and I put it away, I knew it was time to go back to work."
There were other offers, he says, and it's understood they were at Championship level, but he was waiting for the right fit, and with Ireland he found it.
He was determined to go through yesterday without bad-mouthing his predecessors and he managed that, laughing off the obligatory Saipan query.
Indeed, the years he spent firefighting allowed McCarthy to deal impressively with an uncomfortable situation.
Landmines were spotted and sidestepped. In his own way, he made subtle points; essentially this wasn't the ideal solution, but saying yes to it was the pragmatic call. And, it must be said, he will earn good money for doing it too - with the FAI reluctant to discuss the rumoured €1.2m salary with bonuses factored into the deal. A different world from his 1996 arrival in all sorts of way.
Back then, even the best League of Ireland sides were very part-time, and the Irish boss could rely on Premier League talent.
- Read more: Mick McCarthy interview: Declan Rice will be first item on menu for manager's second bite at the cherry
Now, he will have to consider squad members at a range of levels - maybe even the league itself - and a locally produced manager will come in next. Ironically enough, Kenny has a strong link with Brian Kerr who did replace McCarthy last time around.
"I think it should be a feather in the cap of the League of Ireland if Stephen does come in and get the job," he continued.
"What way are they going to get an Ireland national team coach out of the League of Ireland without doing it? And maybe if they don't do it now with Stephen, he might drift away and do something else."
He doesn't expect the players to be spooked by the scenario. After all, a major tournament with matches in Dublin should focus minds.
"I don't think it undermines my authority one bit," he stressed, when asked if he feared jibes about being a caretaker or a stopgap. "I'm not concerned at all about that. If this is what they want to do, I'm cool with it."
It’s the biggest load of pony I’ve ever heard. I did my business here. I did it for five years and I did it reasonably well, however anybody thinks about it. I did it well and I left.
Robbie Keane’s role
He can bring a freshness to it. He’ll have ideas from the clubs he has played for. He’ll challenge me as well on things because he’s got an opinion. Not always one I agree with – but he has got an opinion and I like that. It’s my appointment, he’s not coming in via anywhere else. It was suggested to me… by him!’ said McCarthy. My first thought was, ‘you cheeky b******s’, but he is cheeky, he played cheeky. Then I copped that Robbie will bring his special talents to the squad.
Looking for players
I’ll go where people are telling me to go and look, I’ve got a list, I’m not daft. I’ve had it on my phone and had a look at all players who qualify and I’ll be going to watch them again whether they are playing in an U-23 game or a friendly game. Ruud Dokter will know the younger players. Stephen Kenny knows the standard of players in League of Ireland. I’ll go and have a look.
How long until you missed management?
When I jet-washed the jet-washer. Once I jet washed it and it was clean and I put it away, I knew it was time to go back to work. I’ve had other offers. I wasn’t waiting for this at all. I’ve said it all along when the right job comes up, whatever the right job was. This did come up and I think it is the right job for me.
How hard would it be to walk away if 2020 goes well?
I will be thrilled, I really will (smiles). It will be tough, won’t it? But that will be a luxury problem. If I have that problem in 2020 I will be thrilled with it and I am not thinking about it. I have agreed and what I have agreed will be done. Do you know what might happen? Another international team might come in and ask me.