'Mick is the gaffer and picks the squad' - Troy Parrott happy to wait for first-team chance
As Stephen Kenny and his U-21 team were deep into their half-time talk during Tuesday's Euro qualifier in Sweden, Troy Parrott was out on the pitch immersed in conversation with fitness coach Damien Doyle.
Ireland had failed to build on a bright opening, retreating deep and looking nervous following the Swedish opener.
Parrott isn't used to watching on but his shock demotion to the bench by Kenny offered an observer's view in Kalmar.
He'd been shocked as anyone at being 'rewarded' for his goalscoring debut last Friday by being dropped. Kenny had his reasons. Armenia were not in the same calibre of second seeds Sweden and therefore attacking adventure needed to be measured.
"I was a bit disappointed not to start," Parrott admitted afterwards.
Arms in the air, fingers pointing and generally gesticulating, the Dubliner could spot Swedish deficiencies.
Six minutes into the second half, Kenny afforded Parrott the opportunity to exploit them. That he did, dropping into midfield to receive passes and run at the suspect Swedish defence. Within 60 seconds of his introduction, the Tottenham teenager forced goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg's to go full stretch from his first effort.
In the stadium known to the locals as the Golden Bird, the caged Parrott was taking flight.
There was even a brief argument with Aaron Connolly over penalty duties. Kenny had to intervene to validate the Brighton man's status as designated taker. Then, his effort was stopped.
"I'm a striker who likes to score goals," explained Parrott. "Aaron hit it well but the goalkeeper made a good save. Once it's missed, it's missed. You just have to get on with it and that's what we did."
Then, Parrott performed the rescue act. His two goals, sandwiched in between by Conor Masterson's header, sealed a 3-1 victory. It was the first time in seven years that the U-21s beat one of the top two in their group. Crucially, the bedrock has been created to qualify for a first ever major tournament.
Parrott, similar to Kenny, is unlikely to be around to see out the qualifiers which end in October 2020. All that's awaiting is the date and opposition of his senior graduation.
Robbie Keane was 17 when he was first capped by McCarthy, Ian Harte and Shay Given played in World Cup qualifiers at the age of 19, but McCarthy has again underlined the chasm between doing well for the Ireland U-21 side and coping with the demands of a Euro qualifier in Tbilisi - a city where even experienced Ireland players have struggled to find their feet - and Geneva. Parrott, however, fully understood McCarthy's reasons for opting against drafting him in for the Bulgaria friendly.
"Mick is the gaffer and picks the squad he believes will win him matches," said the Dubliner.
"He's made his mind up and I've no problem with that. I'm eligible for a few different age-groups and would happily represent Ireland at any level.
"I'm just looking forward to the next Under-21 game against Italy in Dublin."
Tallaght rather than Tbilisi is where Parrott is due on October 10, unless Mauricio Pochettino gives McCarthy a dilemma by offering game time in the Premier League.
Parrott's expected involvement in the Carabao Cup against Colchester on September 24 will probably not be sufficient to earn promotion. Injuries to some of McCarthy's frontline could revise that.
McCarthy is willing to attend U-23 league games but needs to see Parrott in the heat of battle in a competitive game, not a high-scoring friendly between the reserve teams of Spurs and Southampton (they play in the U-23 league tomorrow) before making his mind up.
"Where was Robbie playing when I played him? Wolves' first team," McCarthy said of Keane's debut at the same age as Parrott is now.
"It does help, playing first team. Can I just say something to you? I've had 970-odd games as a manager and coach and I might just be given that bit of credence and I can tell the difference between them playing, the 21s is a very gentle league compared to any of the others.
"I'll still go and watch it. I'm not ruling him out, I'm not saying he's going to be in."
But one man who has graduated is Josh Cullen the current holder of the FAI's U-21 player-of-the-year award who impressed on his senior debut against Bulgaria.
Earlier this week, McCarthy was unimpressed when asked if U-21 prospect Aaron Connolly reminded him of Damien Duff.
"I'm not giving him that label," McCarthy retorted, unwilling to add to the pressure on 19-year-old Connolly.
But McCarthy referred to another era when asked about the drawback of Cullen being less than physically imposing.
"Neither was Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles," McCarthy said.
"I haven't got reservations because he's technically very good, and a tough little sod.
"He puts his foot in and stands his ground. You wouldn't think he's a little fella that gets knocked around. He handles the ball particularly well. He's got good legs and gets around the pitch. He's not particularly good at marking at corners and free-kicks but sometimes you've got to put up with that."
What comes next for Spurs starlet?
Mick McCarthy has put it on the record that Troy Parrott needs to have game time at first-team level with Spurs before he can be called into the senior Ireland squad.
Spurs have three games in the U-23 league this month but Parrott will hope to use the League Cup game in 12 days' time to get an outing under Mauricio Pochettino and prove his worth to McCarthy before he names his senior squad.
Parrott is also named in the provisional squad for next week's Champions League tie in Greece.
THE KEY DATES
Saturday Sept 14th: Spurs at home to Crystal Palace, Premier League
Wednesday Sept 18th: Spurs away to Olympiacos, Champions League
Saturday Sept 21st: Spurs away to Leicester, Premier League
Tuesday Sept 24th: Spurs away to Colchester League Cup
Saturday September 28th: Spurs home to Southampton, Premier League
Tuesday October 1st: Mick McCarthy names Ireland squad for Georgia/Switzerland games