McCarthy fighting for his future
New boss refuses to look at past knowing present role will have long-term implications
Mick McCarthy does not have time for reputations, retirements and regrets. He may only have eight months and six more games in the job. If he wants more and longer, Ireland have to stay top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
So far, so good, but the end of John Delaney's reign will not change his deal with the FAI. McCarthy will hand over to Stephen Kenny when Ireland's European Championship campaign ends. His priority is delaying that for as long as possible and seeing off the challenges of Switzerland and Denmark so they play the role of hosts when the finals come to Dublin next summer.
With success will come the possibility of another crack at club management and finally an opportunity to work with a wealthy owner, rather than scrape and scrap to succeed and survive as he did at Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ipswich Town. The timing of his Ireland exit will determine his future.
McCarthy has never been one for soundbytes and hyperbole, and, if it is possible, he became even more open and brutally honest in the 5,984 days that passed since the last time he took charge of a Republic of Ireland team in Lansdowne Road. It comes with experience, age and a healthy dose of cynicism.
Late on Tuesday night, with six points and two very different 1-0 victories under his belt, the new Ireland manager was talking to the media.
Reporter: "Mick, you said you wouldn't talk about the previous mana . . . "
Mick: "So, I won't."
Actions speak louder than words. David McGoldrick, a McCarthy loyalist from Ipswich who could never get near O'Neill's starting XI, was man of the match against Georgia. His tireless endeavours narrowly edged out Glenn Whelan. He got a standing ovation and the singing section belted out his name.
McCarthy believed that Whelan's unexpected but pleasant 36-minute cameo in the goalless draw against Northern Ireland last year was the midfielder farewell to Ireland.
"I actually thought he had retired and when I called him and spoke to him, he said, 'no, I haven't, I was retired'," McCarthy said. "He was always in my thoughts and I put him in my initial squad. I was never going to play 4-4-2 against Georgia. We would have got bashed, they would have had the ball and we never would have got it off them, so we had to catch them up and make sure we were better than them.
"I knew he would play 90 minutes. He is in great shape, which is testimony to him and how he has looked after himself, and he is playing for Aston Villa, and he was the one that was going better than all the others at the end I thought.
"What do I like about him? I like his ability, his durability, his organisation, just his experience. He played that position brilliantly against Georgia and some of his passes were excellent. He got us playing. And he plays regularly with Conor (Hourihane), which was always in my mind.
"It is nice to have a couple of partnerships. We haven't got many on the pitch. And organisationally he was very good, vocally helping the players around him, and he should do because he is a very experienced lad. I said that is his job. Despite the fact we are all shouting on to the pitch we can't organise it all the time, it is up to the players to do it."
McCarthy has been in management this long because he manages players, which is why his decision to leave out Matt Doherty, for example, and indicate that could be a long-term arrangement, will frustrate reporters and fans more than the defender he signed for Wolves.
The back stories of his squad are irrelevant now, just as the inclusion of James Collins indicated a willingness to look in the lower divisions, where Aiden McGeady's form at Sunderland, among others, will continue to be monitored ahead of the games against Denmark and Gibraltar in June. Ireland's positive start will not have gone unnoticed by Patrick Bamford, and the Leeds striker remains a target.
Ireland will at least have a realistic plan to deal with Christian Eriksen in Copenhagen and judging by the opening half-hour against Georgia, with the atmosphere reminiscent of the Lansdowne Road McCarthy remembers, Gibraltar on home turf should be a very different game to last weekend's windy farce on plastic.
Before that, they will reconvene for a camp in Portugal in May. This will be McCarthy at his best, instilling a club mentality in an Ireland squad, involving all the backroom staff, just as Jack Charlton did in his first days as manager.
McCarthy said: "I would hope they would want to come back in if we had lost but we've got six points and we are top of the group and we have played well and they are all buzzing. They will be busting a gut to come to Portugal.
"I have got them now and I am not bothered, not one flying flute, what has gone on in the past or what their careers were. I have no background with them, except with Didsy (McGoldrick) and that is about it, and I knew him, trust and love him to bits.
"I just took them on face value and they have all played pretty well. I can't talk about what's happened in the past but I can talk about how well they have played in these two games. Well, the Georgia game - but they did the job on Saturday. They are good players.
"We might go to Switzerland and get smashed because they've got really good players. We might go to Denmark and get smashed, I have no idea. But they have stepped up and played really well and I can't ask any more of them."
One man also understandably reluctant to make any comparisons with O'Neill is Ireland captain Seamus Coleman. The Everton defender had a close bond with the former manager, and a loyalty built on the hands-on support O'Neill continued to provide during the recuperation from his broken leg.
The inquiry was not exactly subtle. "What has changed from Martin's time?" he was asked after the Georgia win. Just as the wily Coleman later swerved any controversy on fans lobbing tennis balls, he played a straight bat to this one. Like McCarthy, he is only looking to the future.
Coleman said: "I find those questions very difficult. No harm to yourself but whatever way I answer it, it will be . . . and I am not like that. I have respected every manager from my Sligo Rovers days to now and we had some great times under the last regime.
"Now the manager has come in and everybody is eager to impress. It was positive tonight. Six points from six is all we can look forward to. But I don't want to be answering questions that look like a comparison and be making headlines.
"We can go into the Denmark game positive and trying to get a result. I don't want there to be a hangover from the last campaign, we just need to take this campaign on what it is and win the game. But six points was all that we could look for from this meet-up and I definitely can't wait to meet up again.
"There is pressure on them to come out and win the game, maybe. So we can pick them off.
"Going off subject a little bit, speaking of picking them off, Didsy was unbelievable, he has been great all week in training and people like that can only help us.
"That is one thing about the Irish team. Good results, bad results, we have a great honest bunch of lads and I love coming away for every campaign because you know you are with a great bunch of lads and they will leave it all out on the pitch.
"Good result, bad result, we would leave it all out on the pitch."
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