Monday 16 September 2019

'It's not my fight, unless they start talking about me' - Mick McCarthy brushes off Keane-Walters row

Bulgarian challenge provides Cork trio with platform to showcase ability

Ireland manager Mick McCarthy is pictured today during a press conference at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy is pictured today during a press conference at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"Why would I comment on that?"

It's Monday morning and Mick McCarthy unsurprisingly declines the opportunity to enliven the build-up to a friendly with Bulgaria by offering his take on Roy Keane's score-settling roadshow appearance.

The Corkman's take-down of Jon Walters, amongst others, took over the airwaves ahead of the crunch Euro 2020 qualifier with Switzerland.

"It's not my fight, unless they start talking about me," said McCarthy, perhaps unaware that Keane's three-hour show did indeed include some Saipan reflections. "My dad used to tell me that you have got to listen to thunder. You can't do anything about it, can you?"

The manager was sitting next to his captain Seamus Coleman, one of the players who did stay on good terms with the previous regime, and therefore had no interest in getting drawn into this storm.

"Are either of them playing for Bulgaria tomorrow?" said McCarthy, with a nod to Walters and Keane, seeking to move things along.

Conor Hourihane and Enda Stevens in relaxed mood at training yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Hourihane and Enda Stevens in relaxed mood at training yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

The 60-year-old would be happy if there was a Cork-themed flavour to the dissection of this evening's friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

We know that he will shuffle the pack for a clash with an opponent that arrives off the back of a hammering at the hands of England.

We also know that he is not placing too much stock in the lessons of this fixture given that the profile of this encounter will bear no resemblance to away days in Tbilisi and Geneva next month. Low-tempo exhibitions in a low-key atmosphere do not function as adequate preparation; the stadium is expected to be half-full.

However, there are players who will be viewing this exercise in different terms. Cork men Alan Browne, John Egan and Conor Hourihane all have something to gain from this encounter. Hourihane's situation is intriguing. McCarthy announced that he had a "surprise" in store by selecting the Aston Villa midfielder at left full-back.

Enda Stevens' suspension for Tbilisi next month has opened a short-term vacancy in that department, and the manager wants to keep the energy of James McClean on the wing.

Positive comments about Matt Doherty would indicate that the Wolves player is in pole position provided he is fit. Doherty has two years' experience of lining out there on his Wolves CV.

But McCarthy and his coaching staff feel that Hourihane is worth a try in the position, and not just because he looked to be short of match practice against Switzerland.

Spotting

The manager does have experience of spotting an individual with the attributes to relocate. Stephen Ward arrived in England as a striker before a prolonged spell with McCarthy at Wolves led to a dramatic change in his job description.

Clearly, he spotted something in Hourihane too, with his short-term conversion unexpected because he is a central player, albeit with a superb left foot. "He has all the tools to play there, that's for sure," said McCarthy. "What is he? Six foot? He can defend the far post, he's competitive enough and he has a wonderful left foot. If we can get him further up the pitch so he can deliver crosses, we should get some joy out of that.

"If you're trying to play out the back, he can certainly play from there. He is a central midfield player who has to track runners and he has to defend from that position. Is there finer nuances? Of course there are. If he has a flying winger, can he deal with it?

"But he's going to get 90 minutes and he might not get that many more times before next month. At least I will have a look at that and it might be another string to his bow."

Hourihane made his debut for Ireland in a March 2017 reverse at the hands of Iceland, a night when Egan also dipped his toe in the water at senior international level.

Both have since graduated to Premier League level and Egan, the son of the late Kerry GAA great John, has had to bide his time with Ireland. Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy are the established first choice, but Egan appears to be next in line.

There's another Corkonian, Kevin Long, in the equation too. He's on the periphery with Burnley, whereas Egan has arrived with momentum.

"I like everything about him," said McCarthy. "The thing is we've got two centre-halves who've been great, how many goals have we conceded? (two in five games is the answer). "We've been a really good defensive unit. The ones that aren't playing, I don't dislike them in any shape or form."

Browne is a player that can really push himself into the picture, after a late cameo last Thursday finally got him involved in a qualifying fixture.

The Preston central midfielder is highly regarded by McCarthy but unfortunately-timed setbacks have left him playing catch-up in the context of this campaign.

With Hourihane moving out of the midfield department for this match, Browne comes into the picture as a box-to-box player with an aggressive presence and an eye for goal. Browne's club operate at a high intensity, and he should therefore be suited to the Irish style.

Previous appearances have passed him by, though. Keane was actually unconvinced by his fellow countyman. "I've been impressed with him," said McCarthy.

If the Whelan, Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick axis needs freshening up, and James McCarthy and Robbie Brady find it hard to gain enough match practice in the club sphere, then Browne comes into the picture.

There are others that can take a step forward this evening. Josh Cullen should win a first cap as a deep-lying option, while Mark Travers is primed for involvement between the sticks.

The unavailability of David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson should give Scott Hogan and James Collins scope to figure.

They would need to do something remarkable to play their way into the picture, whereas the Cork trio can make the kind of noise that will get McCarthy's attention.

Irish Independent

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