Sunday 22 September 2019

McCarthy gets to enjoy some fringe benefits but tougher tests lie ahead

Mick McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Mick McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The craggy face of Mick McCarthy held a smile at the conclusion of international duty in Dublin 4 last night.

Not from the quality of fare that he and the crowd had witnessed - at times endured - over the previous 90 minutes, in a 3-1 win at home to Bulgaria. There had been little value for money in the first half and then four goals arrived in the second.

It wasn't really what he saw on the field that pleased McCarthy so, more so the state of the nation as he heads off to think for 31 days before international duty resumes again, with a very testing double-header away to Georgia and Switzerland.

It was a case of small crumbs to tuck away in his pocket in case of need for McCarthy instead of a stand-out display from a fringe player. It was a good night for the Ireland boss as the stand-ins tried out for a role, knowing the big names will be back next month.

Scoring three against a 37-year-old 'keeper, making his debut in a tired-looking team which has not won in eight games, is one thing; easy, even. But delivering amid the tension of Tbilisi next month is another and while McCarthy will have enjoyed seeing Ireland score three times for the first time, he will enjoy his respite knowing that what's ahead is far more troubling and testing.

These are tough times for international managers. Robert Prosinecki quit as manager of Bosnia last week, leaving before he was pushed after a poor run.

Poland will probably still qualify for Euro 2020 but their boss is under fire after a return of one point, and no goals, from the last two games. Scotland and Steve Clark are a laughing stock after this week's latest humiliation, at home to Belgium.

Read more: New boys steal show as late rally downs Bulgaria

Over in Denmark, the man who lorded it over Martin O'Neill, Age Hareide, now seems to have feet of clay, to go with the dodgy knee which forced him to miss their last two games, the Danish side derided at home after their 0-0 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

So McCarthy can rest easy for a month.

His unbeaten record remains in place. He gave game-time to some of his fringe players last night and even had time to hand out debuts (for the first time in his second spell in the dugout), to Josh Cullen, Mark Travers, Kieran O'Hara, James Collins and Jack Byrne.

There was a particularly warm reception from the Dublin crowd as Byrne became the 64th player from Shamrock Rovers to win a senior cap, and it was a subsequent treat for the crowd to see Byrne claim an assist for the second goal.

McCarthy will take some solace from elements of this game: debut goals from Alan Browne and James Collins, a classy effort from sub Byrne, no slip-ups from Travers in goal, a solid showing in central defence from John Egan (even though he was forced into the concession of a penalty in the box when he was let down by Cyrus Christie), some nice touches in midfield from Callum O'Dowda and Cullen, and hints that Ronan Curtis could have more to offer.

The Keogh/Duffy axis at the heart of the Irish defence will only be broken up by necessity, in the case of injury and suspension, but the pair have played every minute of every game in the qualifiers for McCarthy, they are his first line of defence, and will not be dropped, but Egan is now next in line, his case backed up weekly exposure to Premier League football.

Conor Hourihane is now a viable option at left-back for the next qualifier, away to Georgia next month, even though taking him out of the centre deprives the midfield of oxygen.

Stephen Kenny, the senior boss in waiting, is the one who will reap the rewards from the likes of Travers, Byrne and Cullen, but for McCarthy, last night offered him some fringe benefits.

Irish Independent

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