Monday 23 April 2018

Just great to be here

McCarthy hopes his actions speak louder than other people's words

James McCarthy finds himself the centre of attention after Ireland's
training session in Malahide yesterday. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
James McCarthy finds himself the centre of attention after Ireland's training session in Malahide yesterday. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's over now. James McCarthy can get on with the rest of his life as an Irish player. No more questions about a decision he made in 2007 that it took some people until this year to believe.

He's in Dublin this week, happy to be part of a squad he hasn't linked up with since his solitary cap against Brazil last February. Giovanni Trapattoni has indicated that he will try to use the 20-year-old for a couple of minutes against Macedonia tomorrow, a gesture that would make a switch back to Scotland impossible.

The problem with such a statement is that it suggests that the Wigan midfielder would be open to such a U-turn if he was excluded. It couldn't be further from the truth.

"If I feature on Saturday, that's it put to bed," said McCarthy, "But as far as it goes, it's put to bed now."

Fittingly enough, McCarthy was resting in Wigan when his situation suddenly became headline news on a quiet Monday before Ireland's Carling Nations Cup meeting with Wales last month.

The reason for his absence -- resting on the advice of his club after recovering from an ankle lay-off -- somehow became an issue of loyalty and desire in the space of a few Trapattoni sentences, and comments from Shay Given, despite the fact that the Irish 'keeper admitted he knew little about the situation.

Trapattoni didn't know very much about it at that point either, but ploughed on all the same, comparing McCarthy's attitude to international football with that of Stephen Ireland, an act which led to a badly needed rethink about the 72-year-old's communication strategy. A line was crossed.

Then came Roberto Martinez's bizarre entry into the debate, suggesting that McCarthy wouldn't be in a position to even think about international football in the summer, insinuating that his affections were involved in a tug-of-war.

Two and two was added without success. The real issue was the lack of communication. Members of the McCarthy family denied the groundless Scotland link, but then, the denial of the story effectively succeeded in giving it more legs -- which sometimes is enough to plant doubt where there should be none.

After that, we had the meeting between Trapattoni and McCarthy that has been falsely interpreted as the Irish boss riding in like some kind of Western-style hero to save the day.

Of course, it was a welcome step that the Irish boss went to meet the player. But it wasn't to convince McCarthy that his international future lay with Ireland. On the evidence of the comments around the Welsh game and the odd Martinez missives, it was Trapattoni that needed to be convinced.

"It was never going to happen," said McCarthy of the Scotland link. "It's just, a couple of the press in Scotland got hold of...well...I don't know what they heard. I think they just went along with the story and picked up something."

Had Scotland made a fresh approach? "No, no," he says.

So, was all the repetitive talk doing his head in? "It was, now and again," McCarthy replies. "There were a few people ringing up asking what was happening, but it was never going to happen and I'm happy with my choice."

The mature Glaswegian was shrewd enough to avoid a diplomatic incident when discussing the odd comments from Martinez, who has emerged from this episode without much credit.

It reached comic levels last Thursday when the Wigan boss again suggested that McCarthy was in a dilemma -- something which certain media outlets were happy to accept as fact -- on the same day that his player had confirmed his flights with the FAI, with family already having made arrangements for a trip to Dublin.

McCarthy had been talking about the upcoming international break with the sizeable Scottish contingent at Wigan alright. Yet the nature of their discussion was their recollections of the Tartan Army's struggles against Macedonia in their aborted attempt to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.

Martinez had something else in his mind when he faced the microphones. "He is just looking after me, looking out for me," said McCarthy. "To be honest, I just wanted to get it over and done with, and I was happy to get over here this time and put the whole thing to bed.

"He (Martinez) wants to look after me. I had just come back from a long injury. Last month, I pulled out as precaution.


"He's happy to see me come away and delighted to see me get international caps. That's what he's all about. He says he will never hold me back."

You sense that the real issue popped up when it was put to McCarthy that his club manager's intervention had confused matters.

"I don't know what has been said in the press," he replied, "I'm still young, and I have nine massive games to go in the Premier League, and we want to stay in the league."

The pressure to keep Wigan in the top flight will dominate the youngster's thoughts when this trip is over, although there's little danger of him dropping to the Championship if the Latics fall down the trapdoor.

There are plenty of clubs who would be keen to secure his services if that came to pass. "I'm delighted to get the recognition," added McCarthy, in response to transfer reports linking Chelsea with a swoop, "But my thing now is to keep Wigan in the Premier League and hopefully I can do that." And if it doesn't happen? "Then, we'll see in the summer," comes the terse reply.

After the allegiance saga and a brush with Wayne Rooney's elbow, he has plenty of experience to draw on when the next circus comes along. He may be softly spoken, but the boy who turned down Liverpool at 17 and stayed a couple of years longer at Hamilton than others would have, is firm in his convictions.

Everybody else can get caught up in the speculation. Ultimately, he's in control of his destiny. He always was.

Irish Independent

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