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Don't expect the winds of change to sweep through McCarthy's play-off plans

Daniel McDonnell



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The Football Association of Ireland are delighted to announce a new partnership with the leading Irish sports retailer INTERSPORT Elverys, as the new title sponsor of the FAI Summer Soccer Schools. Pictured at the announcement is Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy at INTERSPORT Elverys, Henry Street in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Football Association of Ireland are delighted to announce a new partnership with the leading Irish sports retailer INTERSPORT Elverys, as the new title sponsor of the FAI Summer Soccer Schools. Pictured at the announcement is Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy at INTERSPORT Elverys, Henry Street in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The Football Association of Ireland are delighted to announce a new partnership with the leading Irish sports retailer INTERSPORT Elverys, as the new title sponsor of the FAI Summer Soccer Schools. Pictured at the announcement is Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy at INTERSPORT Elverys, Henry Street in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy was on Dublin's Henry Street yesterday, posing for photos with Niall Quinn an hour before Mary Lou McDonald was due to appear for a celebratory walk.

If the story of the election has been one of change, and the breaking up of an old guard, the Irish manager used this visit to assert that he will be sticking with what he knows for March's play-offs.

In his defence, the stakes are so high for the Euro 2020 decider that it's very hard for the 61-year-old to sincerely engage in a debate about the various wild cards he might pitch into the fray.

That's the natural way of press conferences, especially in this era of excitement around a generation of emerging Irish stars.

McCarthy fielded questions about Troy Parrott, Jayson Molumby and Adam Idah at different stages of his visit. He gave a mention to Aaron Connolly, Dara O'Shea and Jason Knight too, amongst others. But he then followed it up with the obligatory comment about how these developments are good news for Stephen Kenny.

In other words, they aren't particularly relevant for his brief as it now stands. Barring a dramatic change in circumstances, they will only really matter if he can secure back-to-back away wins in March and then plot the path to a major tournament summer.

There is a possibility that an exception would have applied if Parrott had secured a loan move to Charlton rather than staying at Spurs due to a quirk of his age and the rules on home-grown players.

McCarthy clearly holds the teenager in high regard and would like to be able to consider him for the responsibility of a role. If the sum total of his match practice in 2020 prior to play-off week is U-18 and U-23 games, then he won't be a part of proceedings. Indeed, he'd said as much to the player's agent.

"They know it affects his chances of being in the squad if he's not playing," he said. "Playing U-23 reserve team football is not really the platform for him to get in this squad."

Connolly has found it hard to push on from his autumn exploits in terms of headline-making contributions, but he's built up a body of Premier League experience that should make him a contender for Bratislava. Michael Obafemi is likely to be in the equation too.

However, they are more likely to be back benchers than in the front line when it comes down to the business of team selection.

In reality, it's Shane Long and James McCarthy that have emerged from the shadows to put up their hand for inclusion. And even then, McCarthy was slow to commit to their return.

"I'll get all these names thrown at me," he said. "Continuity has been at the base of all my teams and we've had that pretty much with the squad. If the lads who've been playing are fit, they'll be first in contention."

There's nothing especially surprising about this stance.

Maybe the mood music will change between now and March, especially if Connolly takes flight again or Parrott somehow comes in from the Spurs cold, but the cubs that are in the best form at the moment weren't drafted into the set-up when McCarthy experimented for the New Zealand friendly.

It's interesting that McCarthy watched Molumby and O'Shea in Millwall's clash with West Brom, but it would take an injury crisis for rookie central midfielders or defenders to be considered.

But if the tone of McCarthy's first gig on Irish soil is 2020 is an indicator of what's to come, repetitive queries about players with that profile are going to be met with the same answer.

Could Molumby be an alternative to Glenn Whelan, now in League One with Fleetwood Town following a challenging run? "Strangely enough, I understand the size of the task making your debut as a senior international," he said.

"And I made it as a hard-nosed pro. What was I? 25? With nearly 300 league games under my belt. I knew what it meant.

"So Glenn, for me, who has been probably the star man in three or four of our games. He has the edge on those, without any doubt."

The Matt Doherty-Seamus Coleman dilemma should be a talking point, with the manager sticking by the line that the struggle in Gibraltar fuels the argument for not deploying them together again.

He didn't close the door on it definitively, but these are the debates that will have relevance to his game-plan. Expect minor reshuffles, not a revolution.

Irish Independent