'I’m going to worry about the people I have here, rather than those I haven’t' - McCarthy pondering defensive options
IT’S quite the irony that as soon as Mick McCarthy receives a bountiful harvest from hitherto shot-shy striking candidates, his once formidable defence has been shredded.
A Premier League forward who scores twice on his debut despite not being in the original Irish squad may be good news; but losing half, perhaps even two-thirds, of the defensive line is definitely not as a tricky Tblisi trip beckons on Saturday, before Ireland roll into a Swiss date three days later.
Richard Keogh’s fate is now well-known; Enda Stevens’ suspension had already ruled him out while Shane Duffy’s race against time is complicated by calf trouble.
Graham Potter, the Brighton manager whose faith in Aaron Connolly gave Irish football a perfect boost last weekend, will hope to provide a double tonic if his club can confirm Duffy’s fitness later this week.
"I had a message from Shane and he said he’s feeling good. He didn’t say he’s feeling fully fit but he’s optimistic," said McCarthy.
"I texted him the plane is leaving at 2pm on Thursday so I’ll keep the extra leg room for you! But even if he doesn’t make it to Georgia, I might hope to see him in Geneva."
McCarthy seemed remarkably relaxed about the lop-sided nature of his difficulties; "I’m just going to worry about the people I have here, rather than those I haven’t."
Cork duo Kevin Long and John Egan (via Kerry, natch) will presumably renew last month’s acquaintance and McCarthy seems as comfortable with them as they are with each other.
"We get on really well with each other off the field and that translates on to it as well," smiles Egan who captained a winning side which included Kevin Long as a goal-scorer.
"That’s football, you have to prepare if you are going to play even if I haven't done it that much the last few times. You have to be ready.
"They’re two massive games and we’ve put ourselves in a great position to get the job done.
"It can be difficult to change a back-four. We’ll do our work on the training ground to make sure we’re prepared.
"I’m enjoying my football, Sheffield United is going well, I captained my country the last day. It’s been nothing but success if you go back to our promotion year but you’re always looking to improve.
"I’m lucky to be with a team who have been successful together last season and who have been going very well this season. I’m playing with confidence and I’ve always had belief in my ability."
Long's own club side, Burnley, are riding high in the Premier League - with Jeff Hendrick returning to the fold and scoring in back-to-back matches to increase the feel-good factor amongst his international team-mates - and Corkonian Long is also hoping to get the nod from McCarthy.
"It’s up to the manager to select me," said Long. "You always come into the squad and try to impress as much as you can. There can be injuries and suspension so you need to be ready.
"I know I can do a job and I’ve proved in the past when I’ve got the call. It’s good to play with John, we know each other a long time and we have an understanding of how we play.
"This would be the biggest game for me with Ireland. I scored the last day and it would be nice to take that positivity going forward."
The left-back situation is less clear-cut; the popular jury would install Wolves’ man Matt Doherty in the position and McCarthy alluded to the clamour.
"There’s been enough people screaming for him to play so we might see him at left-back," said the manager. "I don’t need to see him play there to know what he can do."
There are alternatives though and, just as Connolly is unlikely to start despite the popular acclaim; Doherty may not be a shoo-in either.
"Greg Cunningham was in contention but had a nasty knee injury. Derrick Williams is more of a left-sided centre-back.
"We’ll try a few things. James McClean is an option but he gives us a huge amount playing in the position he does at the moment. I have to look at all the options."