Thursday 23 May 2019

Two into one won't go for Mick McCarthy - Ireland boss must solve conundrum of Doherty and Coleman

Mick McCarthy and (inset) Coleman and Doherty
Mick McCarthy and (inset) Coleman and Doherty
Mick McCarthy pictured during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The omission of Cyrus Christie from Mick McCarthy's final squad of 23 for his opening double-header as Ireland boss suggested he was very satisfied with one department of his squad.

With Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty in the ranks, he is well covered in the right-back department.

We will find out later this week if there's a significance in that decision. It's slightly unfortunate for McCarthy that two of his better players - maybe even his two best players - could be competing for the same position, and the suspicion lingers that he will find a way to accommodate both of them.

The returning manager has left various statements about the decision open to interpretation, and indicated he will make the final call when he gets to speak with the players now that they're in camp.

Qualities

He is aware of Doherty's qualities of course, given that he brought him to Wolves from Bohemians with the help of scout Dave Bowman, but it's fair to say that the Dubliner has evolved considerably in recent seasons.

The form option was hailed by the Irish boss at a recent event where the headlines screamed that he had declared the Wolves player as the best right-back in the Premier League.

That might have alarmed Coleman and his supporters until they read the specific quote.

"I could argue that he's the best right wing-back in the Premier League," said McCarthy.

That's a crucial point given that Doherty has played all of his football this term in that specialised position.

Coleman has only operated as a right-back for Everton, and has had to cope with being dropped on a couple of occasions.

A sturdy display in the recent Merseyside derby with Liverpool and Sunday's win over Chelsea highlighted his enduring qualities and the reality is that the pressure he was under in periods of those matches - especially the Liverpool fixture - is likely to be replicated when Ireland play their crunch qualifiers in a busy year.

Saturday's date in Gibraltar and a home game with Georgia should ask more of Ireland when they have the ball. And that might present McCarthy with a dilemma if he really does decide that there's only room for one of those players in his team.

The work of the excellent whoscored.com website shines a light on the duo's respective performances at Premier League league this term.

In truth, the figures only succeed in highlighting the differences between their respective roles, especially in the attacking department.

Take shots on goal as an example. Coleman has only been able to register 11 across the campaign, an average of 0.5 per match.

Half of those have come from outside the area, and a close-range effort against Chelsea was his first inside the six-yard box.

By contrast, Doherty has taken aim on 35 occasions, and just five of those efforts have come from outside the area.

Eight of the 30 closer-range efforts came from inside the six-yard box. It says a lot about the positions he has been able to take up with a Wolves side that has created a lot of goalscoring chances.

That said, he matches Coleman on defensive statistics in terms of successful tackles per game and he averages 1.7 interceptions per game, whereas Coleman is at 0.9 per outing.

The ex-Bohemians player has also blocked a greater proportion of passes than Ireland's captain, although these figures may also reflect that he is given a certain amount of freedom to press on and upset opponents as they attempt to form attacks, whereas Coleman has spent quite a large number of minutes pegged back without possession.

Doherty has attempted to execute a greater quantity of short passes in the opposition's final third. His bottom-line return is three league goals and four assists, whereas Coleman has managed just one of each.

This doesn't include cup matches, where Doherty has also excelled. He is playing with such confidence that it would be daft to bench him.

Playing him on the right side of the midfield is one option. Another would be to go with wing backs and then slot Coleman on to the edge of a back three.

Preference

But if McCarthy does go with the defensive four - his preference for the bulk of his managerial career - then he does have an alternative solution, to switch Doherty to left-back.

He gained experience in that department at Wolves before the club was taken over.

Midway through the 2015/16 campaign, he was called upon at left-back by Kenny Jackett and he went on to be named as player of the season.

He scored two goals and bagged another four from that berth in the following season, when he played the majority of his football there.

However, McCarthy was lukewarm when pressed on the prospect of deploying the Swords native to that area.

"Would I rule him out if I didn't have a left-back or if something went wrong? No, I wouldn't," he said.

The implication was that it would require another player to suffer misfortune. McCarthy rates Enda Stevens highly.

He's another League of Ireland graduate who has found the best form of his career by getting a sustained run as a wing-back.

The 28-year-old is a fixture for Chris Wilder's promotion-chasing Sheffield United and was excellent in Saturday's vital success away to Leeds.

With Stephen Ward retiring from international duty, Stevens is the only player in the squad who is currently operating as a left-sided defender for his club.

But similar to Doherty, it's in a more advanced brief. That said, he was on the backfoot for lengthy spells against Leeds and stood firm.

Robbie Brady does have experience in both positions too, but McCarthy said yesterday that he would be using the Burnley man further forward.

That leaves Doherty as the only real alternative to Stevens starting.

It's a good problem to have compared to his difficulties in other areas.

There are parallels with his first stint where he was well-stocked at full-back and even dropped Denis Irwin on a handful of occasions with Gary Kelly, Jeff Kenna and Steve Staunton in the picture.

By the time his third campaign came around, Stephen Carr and Steve Finnan were firmly in the picture along with Kelly.

With Carr sidelined, Kelly started the 2002 World Cup finals as right-back and finished it on the right wing with Finnan established as full-back.

He may have to chop and change again before making a firm decision on the most effective strategy.

Irish Independent

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