Thursday 18 July 2019

McCarthy hails Duffy but admits frailties lie elsewhere in team

‘He could play in any team,’ McCarthy says as he hails Sean Duffy’s masterclass in defending. Photo: Sportsfile
‘He could play in any team,’ McCarthy says as he hails Sean Duffy’s masterclass in defending. Photo: Sportsfile

John Brennan

Mick McCarthy ought to know a good centre-half when he sees one. A playing career based on strength, smarts, commitment and personal bravery at the heart of the back-line for clubs and country leaves Ireland's boss uniquely placed to assess Shane Duffy, as the Brighton defender fast becomes the indispensable player in McCarthy's second coming as Ireland manager.

Never mind the header that earned a vital point in Copenhagen on Friday night, Duffy was excellent in his primary duty as a defender.

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One first-half tackle by Duffy to prevent Christian Eriksen shooting was so good that if Virgil van Dijk had executed it we would have been swooning. And McCarthy saw the tackle as a sign of the maturity coming into the Brighton man's game.

"You get that as you get older," said the manager. "You stop trying to win every ball and stop trying to compete for everything and you're a little bit more composed. They hit a great diagonal out wide to make the opening for Eriksen, but that is what Shane is good at. I'll take him as a great defender."

So should he be playing for a Premier League team that can do better than one place above the relegation zone? The Irish supremo sees the trapdoor of commenting on club affairs, so he skirts warily around it.

"He could play in any team, but it depends on what they want him to do. If they want Shane to go and get the ball on the outside of the 18-yard box and pass it to the goalkeeper and then roll it to the next one and have 28 passes before it comes out, then no, and he will admit to that.

"If I want him to defend and put his head on things and block things and stop things and keep it out of our net, he's brilliant at that so why do anything else? And then, as a brilliant bonus, Shane can put it in their net."

He added: "He's just a really good Premier League centre-half which is a compliment in itself. In both boxes he's fabulous and he is pretty much unplayable if we get the delivery in, get the run right, the movement right and the ball right. In all those circumstances Shane is very difficult to stop."

McCarthy is nothing if not pragmatic, and says he will use Duffy's strengths to the benefit of the team. "If you start trying to be something that you're not, international football can prove to be difficult."

Duffy's display on Friday night, and his equaliser, were the highlights of the contest against the Danes, but McCarthy did not shirk away from talking about some of the stuff his players got wrong - such as repeatedly surrendering possession to Danish players, after it had been hard won back, with a bad touch or a poor pass.

"Well, that is something we have to get better at and the lads know that. It's something I mentioned to them at half-time and we did work hard at trying to be better in the second half, but they just forced us back at times.

"We did give it away, and sometimes very unnecessarily as well, and some of their breaks and chances came from when we were in good possession. That was not good and is something to work on, for sure."

Ireland will have the ball for long stretches of the game against Gibraltar tomorrow night in the Aviva Stadium and using it patiently against a team coming to defend will present its own issues.

But McCarthy is adamant that Ireland have to do better against the higher-class opponents in the group. "We do, but Denmark have been doing it for a long time and they were very good at controlling the game with Thomas Delaney, Lasse Schone and Christian Eriksen and the two wide players coming to play on the inside. The Danes are a very good team. I would love to be able to play like that. But three games in (to his reign) and with just four weeks together, it's not easy."

It was a vital away point for Ireland but McCarthy is not ready to celebrate it until the expected three against Gibraltar are added to it.

"If you look at our fans behind the goal on Friday night, they surely enjoyed the occasion. But going forward, we have Gibraltar and it will be a lot better if we get those points. If we do, then I will see the draw in Denmark as putting down a marker for the group."

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