Monday 21 October 2019

John Aldridge: 'The positivity is finally back in Irish football - Mick McCarthy is our Ole Gunnar Solskjaer'

Mick McCarthy has won his first two games as Ireland manager. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mick McCarthy has won his first two games as Ireland manager. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

John Aldridge

AT last we have an Ireland team that is ready to smile again.

We don’t have the best players in the world and we won’t win any tournaments with the set of players Mick McCarthy has inherited, but it felt like we rediscovered our DNA in the 1-0 win against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium and it was great to see.

While Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane deserve to be respected for what they have achieved over the course of their careers, the performance of the Ireland team last night confirmed the managerial change has already made a big difference.

It had been painful to watch Ireland play over the last year, but something felt very different last night and it has to be down to the guy calling the shots on the touchline.

As we saw when Manchester United replaced Jose Mourinho with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a new voice in the dressing room and an injection of positivity can make a huge difference and that’s what we saw against a decent Georgia side.

Suddenly, Ireland players looked more comfortable in possession, the fear factor that gripped them in the final months of the O’Neill/Keane era evaporated and in its place was a performance we could all embrace.

We saw players in green shirts throwing themselves into tackles, chasing second balls, creating chances and looking like they believed that they could score goals – it was great to see.

Mick was keen to get his players into wide positions, James McClean and Seamus Coleman were a real threat when they broke forward and I also enjoyed the contribution of Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick in the lead striker role.

Whenever I see an Ireland forward chasing down balls and feeding off scraps, I get flashbacks from my days leading the line for my old Ireland boss Jack Charlton and McGoldrick did his job manfully last night.

His finishing touch was not there at times, but the work he put in for the team was vital as it allowed everything to function and he fully deserved the rousing ovation he got after that performance.

It needed a bit of quality to crack the game open for Ireland and what a moment of class we saw from Conor Hourihane, as he fired an unstoppable free-kick to hand Ireland a vital early lead.

We have been waiting a long time to have a real moment of quality to cheer from an Ireland team and the joy you could see on the faces of the players as they celebrated that goal said all you needed to know about the change of mood in the camp.

Six points from the opening two qualifiers is a fantastic return and it gives McCarthy a platform to have a real go at pushing for a top-two finish in a group that will be decided when we play Denmark and Switzerland.

These last few days were all about turning a page for Ireland and banishing the demons of what has been a horrible year and on those two counts, Mick and the players have ticked two boxes.

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