Monday 19 August 2019

Mick McCarthy: 'If it ends in a scrappy 1-0 win, off somebody's backside, I am not bothered, I will take the win'

Short-term nature of McCarthy’s job means entertaining the fans is way down his list of priorities

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The revolution can wait. While much grave offence has seemingly been caused by lingering Danish claims that Ireland have been an annoying team to play against in recent times, it is worth remembering that Ireland have also been an annoying team to play for.

And while Stephen Kenny, the manager-in-waiting, has strong views on how to change that perception, in the meantime Mick McCarthy has no such responsibility, or even a necessarily strong desire, to become part of such an over-arching ambition.

Nonetheless, McCarthy's opening months of his short-term second stint as Irish boss have yielded substantial improvements in results and a visible enlightening of the squad's attitude and personality.

There is a much more evident substance about their methods and application but, in terms of style, aside from the subtle shift in emphasis towards a collective willingness to push higher up the field, it is hardly revolutionary stuff.

But McCarthy wasn't hired to do that job; it will be the task of Kenny, however unwitting his appointment by a now-discredited FAI Board, to implement and maintain the transformation of the Irish football culture.

Dreamy

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy during a press conference. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy during a press conference. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

After his appointment, the Tallaght man spoke evocatively of football in almost dreamy tones, from eschewing twin holding midfielders, to precise aspirations for how centre-backs should pass and to whom and to where.

"We want to create an environment and style of player where we have a fluid midfield, our players can interchange position and that the back four use the maximum width of the pitch," said Kenny in March.

"I always insist on my players passing in front of the defenders. That the left-backs and right-backs receive the ball in their stride. That they're not too far ahead of the ball. That they receive it static. That they always receive it on the move.

"That our right centre-back can miss out the left centre-back. That they are comfortable passing it 30 yards in front of a left-back or right-back or in midfield.

"I don't like to play with two holders and one number ten. I don't like that rigid, static feel to it. These are important factors for the fabric of the team."

These thoughts are of a man who has a lot of time to think before he gets the job for real, and certainly one with more time on his hands than McCarthy, who is effectively tasked with a year-long, eight-match sprint to secure tournament qualification.

The initial progress of Kenny's U21s, and their style of play, almost echoes the early burst of panache from Brian Kerr's young guns 22 years ago, when McCarthy was also senior boss and charged with completing the gritty business of negotiating qualification tournaments by any means necessary. He had better players then, too.

McCarthy can't afford to dwell upon niceties about what the future might hold for the Irish team and a host of promising young players.

For him, it is about survival from day to day, match to match with the players he has right now.

So you ask him how does he spend his limited time?

"Playing football! All the things. Throw-ins. Free-kicks. Corner-kicks. Passing the ball. Pass and move. Midfielders getting in the box. Good deliveries. Just playing football. Being aggressive. Being positive."

His is a practical, not a philosophical, ideology. It has served him well.

"I know I've only had three games doing this job, but I've had 967 games, I think, as a manager before this including the international job. I am fully aware of what goes on and how difficult the games are."

And so, while some Irish supporters might aspire to a heaven-sent evening of spectacular, dizzying ball-playing invention this evening, McCarthy's instincts would be easily sated by a goal delivered via someone's backside (most probably Shane Duffy's, on recent evidence).

"Of course a performance would be important but I am sat here trying to stress the importance of winning," he says, ever more exasperated with the expectancy of a nation expecting Ireland to come over all Brazilian against a hapless Gibraltar side.

He then poses a philosophical question of his own.

"Will it be great if we play really well and draw 0-0? I want to win the game. Yes it would be lovely walking off and we've had a good result and everyone is happy, the squad has a few goals.

"But we are playing against a team who are coming here desperate to stop us doing that and we have to try and break them down. We will do everything in our powers to break them down.

"For all the football that was played the other night, both goals came from two crosses, both brilliant headers. Do you call that wonderful flowing football? I am not so sure."

It would be wrong to caricature McCarthy. He will win by any means necessary but will use all means, too.

After all, his open session of training yesterday focused on drills which were driven towards neat passing, quick touch and movement, all conducted below head height.

But experience has taught him that ultimately, winning is the only thing.

"I want to win the game. I don't get this about how we have to be expansive. We tried that. We were expansive against Georgia and had lots of chances. We scored one, but we won the game.

"We weren't allowed to be expansive in Gibraltar but we scored one and won the game. I thought we played well in Denmark and one goal gets us the draw. So long as we win I'm not bothered.

"I'm not saying we are going out to do anything else. We try and play football. But I want to win. I want 10 points. It's a borderline silly question. I want to win.

"My teams have always played like that. I never tried to do anything else. I said when I got the job, I wanted to have a team like the teams I've played in and like the teams I managed before, 17 or 18 years ago that were aggressive.

Points

"We got after teams and tried to stop teams playing, and when we have the ball, we try to play, there is nothing new to it really.

"I don't really know what you want me to say. The more games we win, we qualify. I want 10 points.

"I'd like it to be a lot better performance than they did in Gibraltar, but ultimately I would still take the 1-0 win. It would cause me stress if it's only 1-0 in the last minute, but so long as we win."

As if there were any doubts, the man who famously painted an image of his rump in a bacon slicer, alludes to the satisfaction should someone else's end up covering his own.

"If it ends in a scrappy 1-0 win, off somebody's backside, I am not bothered, I will take the win."

And, as a neat postscript, a timely Mick catchphrase to boot, when someone asks had he thought of the prospect of leading an Irish side out at the Aviva during Euro 2020.

"I'm walking out in the Aviva tomorrow night. That'll do for me."

Irish football and Mick McCarthy's future is all about the now.

Years of experience have taught him this much.

Irish Independent

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