Tuesday 23 January 2018

McCarthy hits 250 mark but yet to make real impact

McCarthy is the only current Irish international with the right age profile and career prospects to move into the 400 club. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
McCarthy is the only current Irish international with the right age profile and career prospects to move into the 400 club. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There is a fair chance that most of the football public missed another landmark in James McCarthy's journey over the weekend.

The Glaswegian's cameo off the bench for Everton in their draw with Manchester City was his 250th appearance in English club football.

He didn't feature prominently in the Match of the Day highlights, in keeping with the majority of his previous outings.

McCarthy's top-flight tally stands at 209 and a total of just 12 goals and 11 assists means that he rarely shines in the heavily edited five-minute packages.

The attacking return is poor, and that basic stat gives weight to one of the main criticisms aimed at the player.

Still, at just 25, he is on course to figure highly in the all-time Irish Premier League chart of appearances. Shay Given (451), Richard Dunne (431) and John O'Shea (421) are the only ones to get across the 400 mark. Damien Duff finished up on 392, with Roy Keane on 366.

McCarthy is the only current Irish international with the right age profile and career prospects to move into the 400 club.

Ten more seasons of 30 league games would put him across the half century - only a dozen players have crossed that threshold.

At Everton, he is working with a fine example of the enduring holding midfielder in Gareth Barry, who is the tricky answer to a quiz question asking the name of the three players to scale the 600 barrier. Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard would spring to mind earlier.

Considering he featured over 100 times for Hamilton at senior level in his teens, McCarthy already has a lot of mileage on the clock. Most of them are starts too. His introduction against City to support Barry and summer recruit Idrissa Gueye was just the sixth time that he has been sprung from the bench in England's top division.

This is the first time in his career that he has really had reason to feel insecure and it has come at the point where he was graduated beyond the youngster tag.

Ronald Koeman appears to have reservations about his place in Everton's evolution.

The Dutchman has a reputation for being strict on players and he has made efforts to tighten up an Everton side that was too comfortable with defeat.

For McCarthy, it's a serious test. Under Roberto Martinez, he was a valued member of the squad and the Spaniard was a big influence in his life. That extended to the protracted saga surrounding his international intentions, with Martinez protective of what he considered to be a special talent.

There is a reason to believe, however, that McCarthy could benefit from a bit of tough love.

Jamie Carragher once recalled a discussion with Martinez where he stressed that the Irish international was the one player in his squad who was irreplaceable.

When fit, his place was safe. He had a defensive role in a system which encouraged full-backs to attack. The flair came from elsewhere and his task was to cover ground and paper cracks.

With Ireland, his better performances have come from a conservative station in front of the back four.

Some of the abuse he has received - mainly from the RTE studio - has been way over the top.

Yet there are moments which feed the cruel 'traffic cop' description as he stands and points without necessarily taking control of the situation.

It does exasperate those with a real knowledge of his ability, with his former Irish team-mate Keith Andrews touching on that point on Newstalk last week.

He described a player who showed on the training ground that he had it all, an ability to receive the ball on either foot and make things happen. Remember, as a teenager, McCarthy excited because he was an athlete with goals in his locker.

Excitement is not a word that is associated with him now, even though his workmates appreciate his value.

After deadline day speculation came to nothing, Everton owner Farhad Moshiri said that the club didn't push through a deal for Moussa Sissoko because it would have meant getting rid of McCarthy.

"We don't turn our backs on our own," he said. "Keeping James McCarthy was a priority and ultimately we could not proceed with a deal that would jeopardise his place at Everton."

That was a nice vote of confidence but it probably didn't do the player much good in the eyes of fans, who always want fresh faces.

When Koeman lashed out at Ireland for using McCarthy twice during the international break, there was some bemusement because of uncertainty over how important he really was to Everton's plans.

But he was thrust into a high-intensity encounter at the weekend as Everton were looking to steady the ship. Clearly, he does have a role to play, but he will have to fight for it.

Shane Long had to do the same at Koeman's Southampton and it culminated with his best ever season. It was bad news for him when Everton looked there for a new boss but, in time, it could yet turn out to be a great development for McCarthy.

He has stacked up games without too many people noticing. The next phase of his football life is where it could get interesting.

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