Saturday 14 December 2019

The young guns, the prodigal sons and Coleman clarity - what Ireland need during winter of purgatory

A lot can change for the Ireland boss between now and pivotal play-off dates

Mick McCarthy faces a long winter break before returning to action against Slovakia. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Mick McCarthy faces a long winter break before returning to action against Slovakia. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A long and strange winter beckons for Mick McCarthy's Ireland.

For all that Monday's display against Denmark offered cause for encouragement, the 60-year-old experienced enough to know that time will complicate any opportunity to bring some momentum into a play-off

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It's a full four months until the play-off semi-final comes around and there's a lot that could happen in that time.

Players can lose form or fitness. They might have moved clubs or be caught up in the stress of a promotion or relegation fight and the accompanying pressure from club bosses.

We are used to the business of a campaign being wrapped up before Christmas, so UEFA's curious method of handling qualification for this competition leaves play-off contenders in purgatory.

By the time the matches come around, McCarthy's successor Stephen Kenny will already know his fixture schedule for his opening months in the job with the next UEFA Nations League draw taking place at the beginning of March.

Ireland supporters will have more certainty about plans for the autumn than they will for the summer.

McCarthy had a lengthy build-up to his opening double header against Gibraltar and Georgia and this stretch will be a greater source of frustration.

He might only have a handful of meaningful training sessions with the group before the next game and the reality is that a number of factors that could influence Ireland's qualification prospects are now out of his control


It was striking that Troy Parrott was first named by McCarthy when he mused over the long-term aspect of the situation his team finds itself in now.

The Tottenham teenager has clearly made an impression on the group during the past week, yet McCarthy wants evidence that he can trust him in a senior match of significance.

"Let's hope Troy gets into the team, let's hope he plays somewhere and gets some football. We'd have another one," he said.

Parrott is a couple of attacking injuries away from involvement for Spurs, and will likely be excited about the FA Cup coming around.

But his development will be dependent on the relationship he establishes with the next man into the Tottenham hotseat, after Mauricio Pochettino was sacked yesterday, and whether the club have any plans to strengthen the squad when the transfer window opens. He will have an idea where the rest of his club season is headed when he turns 18 in February.

Aaron Connolly shouldn't be forgotten of course, seeing as he was playing regularly for Brighton until he sustained a groin problem. The Galwegian could be a much more experienced proposition by then.


David McGoldrick is probably the leading contender for player-of-the -year honours. Ireland's poor performances in his absence in October confirmed his importance. McGoldrick has shaken off his injury-prone reputation since joining Sheffield United, and that setback was minor compared to previous ailments.

Nevertheless, he is 32 next week and this is his first full Premier League season. He was peripheral under Martin O'Neill, but he now ranks up there with Darren Randolph and Shane Duffy in terms of his importance to the side.

"He is our best striker, there is no doubt about it," said McCarthy, "I'm saying it and that's not being detrimental to all of the other lads because I think they would recognise that as well."

If Parrott or Connolly do sprout wings, McGoldrick has the ability to function as a number ten and would certainly offer more in that department than Jeff Hendrick if Ireland need to cut an opponent open.


Robbie Brady is back in the Ireland fold now but wasn't deemed sharp enough to contribute in the Danish match after his under-par New Zealand showing.

Brady desperately needs games at Burnley and would be a live option on the right side, much as Alan Browne impressed when given his big opportunity. Indeed, his versatility would make the Dubliner a perfect candidate for the peaks and troughs of a play-off challenge.

James McCarthy is the other name that springs to mind, although the Ireland manager didn't seem impressed by the Glaswegian's reluctance to come in for the New Zealand match.

The midfielder wants to get settled at Crystal Palace after a torrid time in his club career. He would need to be setting the world alight to get the call, although if Glenn Whelan met with any misfortune then his importance would grow.


The position of Seamus Coleman is a tricky one for the manager. He didn't have a terrific year, but some criticism was unfair; he was below the level of his best Irish displays but quite effective until October when he really struggled.

Coleman has now lost his place at Everton to the impressive Djibril Sidibe. That said, the Frenchman has a patchy fitness record and Coleman is club captain so there could be twists in that tale.

However, the quality of Matt Doherty's attacking display on Monday illustrated the dimension that he can offer to an Irish side.

His calmness on the ball helped to build attacks and, while he did switch off for the Danish goal, it would be a big call to leave the Wolves player sidelined for games that Ireland actually have to win. If Coleman is on the outside at Everton coming into the matches, that could tip the balance against the skipper.

That would be an awkward one for McCarthy, but at least he might be prepared for that problem.

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