McCarthy Guides Ireland to Strong Start in Euro 2020 Qualification

C: FAI

Mick McCarthy has guided the Republic of Ireland to victories over Gibraltar and Georgia in their first two Euro 2020 qualifiers, making the Irish the only side in Group D to have a perfect record.

Critics will point to the manner of the 1-0 wins over the group’s minnows, although the performance against Georgia was promising, while Switzerland and Denmark are likely to prove tougher foes.

McCarthy is in the unusual position of knowing that Stephen Kenny will take over in 2020, but the wily manager who departed Ipswich Town last summer is the ideal man to get the best out of an unfortunately limited squad. 

A comparison with the squad that McCarthy took to the 2002 World Cup demonstrates how the player pool has changed.

That squad list featured many stalwarts of the Premier League, with a generous sprinkling of younger players with their best days ahead of them.

Steve Finnan would become a Champions League winner, Damien Duff a two-time Premier League champion and Robbie Keane a deadly finisher with over a century of Premier League goals.

The likes of Matt Holland, Kevin Kilbane and Shay Given all enjoyed fine careers in the top tier, while the intended inclusion of Roy Keane would have added a talisman rated as one of Europe’s finest.

Of course, Keane had other ideas. Yet McCarthy was still able to call on a pool of players brimming with Premier League quality, a far cry from today’s options.

Clubs’ inclination to look further overseas for new imports has played a role, as has the increase in quality and budget of the Championship.

While this has been good news for the overall quality of the English football pyramid, it has forced domestic and Irish players down pecking orders and divisions. 

Many of the squad ply their trade in England’s lower leagues. This is not an issue in isolation, but the maturity of many of these players suggests that there is not much room for growth.

David McGoldrick (31), Conor Hourihane (28) and Richard Keogh (32) are leading Championship players in their positions, but they cannot be expected to develop much further.

Of the capped Premier League cohort in the squad, only Seamus Coleman (Everton) and Matt Doherty (Wolves) play for sides not embroiled in a relegation battle.

Burnley have given Kevin Long, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady to the squad, yet in the Premier League relegation market at William Hill the Clarets are a worrying 5/2 to drop down a division. This would further diminish the number of top-tier players available for Ireland.

For obvious reasons, having players being tested at higher levels domestically bodes well for international outfits.

While Doherty has been impressive for Wolves, Ireland also cannot boast a true footballing giant as Wales can with Gareth Bale.

These factors all combine to suggest that McCarthy’s efforts to cohere an impressive 1-0 victory over Georgia are laudable. 

There is also hope for the future in emerging talents who could form a backbone of the side in major tournaments to come.

The BBC have acknowledged how Dara O’Shea has impressed in central defence for League Two side Exeter, while Ipswich’s highly-rated Corrie Ndaba could partner O’Shea in a formidable duo. 

Southampton forward Michael Obafemi and Manchester United defender Lee O’Connor have both been selected in the main squad as teenagers, so perhaps Kenny will inherit a side in 2020 that is on its way up.

Motivation and desire will never be a concern with McCarthy in charge, making him the ideal man to get the best out of this squad in the next two years.