Republic of Ireland job getting bigger by the day: Mick McCarthy
MICK McCarthy says the Republic of Ireland job is getting “bigger and bigger” by the day and feels his squad is getting “smaller and smaller” every time he surveys his options – which has prompted the former captain to ask veteran striker Daryl Murphy to come out of international retirement.
McCarthy, who returned to the post he last held in 2002, replaced Martin O’Neill last December but will make way for U21 boss Stephen Kenny at the end of Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualification campaign.
O’Neill’s options wer thinning at an alarming rate in the closing stages of his reign and things don’t look like improving under the new manager.
Speaking at last Friday night’s Soccer Writers’ annual bash in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel, McCarthy didn’t disguise the size of the task facing him.
“It's a huge job. It's getting bigger by the day,” he said.
The Irish open up their Euro 2020 account away to Gibraltar on March 23 and at home to Georgia three days later, with games against Denmark and Switzerland to follow.
McCarthy doesn’t have the luxury of a few warm-up games due to changes to the international calendar.
“The games are coming around. For a month, I've been going out watching players, speaking to people, speaking to players.
“Day by day, when the games are looming, it starts to get bigger and bigger.
“I was looking at games [last weekend] to go to and the squad seems to be getting smaller and smaller.
“There are quite a lot of them not playing through one thing or another.”
McCarthy’s problems are compounded by the fact that captain Seamus Coleman is no longer a regular at Everton following the impressive rise of young full-back JonJoe Kenny this season, although the Killybegs defender was restored to the starting line-up to face Bournemouth yesterday.
However, the new Republic manager isn’t unduly concerned over Coleman’s situation on Merseyside and recalls himself being out of favour at club level but Jack Charlton still picked him for international duty.
“He’ll be fine. He’ll be alright, Seamus,” McCarthy said.
“I’ve no worries about him at all. He’s such a good player, such a great lad and there is no problem. Even if he wasn’t playing, I’d have no worries about him.
“I remember being in the situation at Millwall and not playing. Big Jack picked me every time I turned up, because he could rely on me. I know I can rely on Seamus.
“I believe it's my job to show faith in people even if they're having a tough time. I was shown a lot of faith by managers in the past and it's amazing what you get from it.
“I'm not saying you do it for that reason, I don't... Suddenly you're not playing for a couple of games and the international manager doesn't call you, that's not good.
“I didn't get that. I got real support from Big Jack who picked me and played me. Even coming back from Lyon I ended up playing and captaining in the World Cup. I've experienced that level of faith in your ability and what you do.
“Seamus has been a super player and he still is. You could argue Matt Doherty is playing well for Wolves. But he is the captain and if he's fit, I've got total faith in Seamus. I've spoken to him a couple of times and exchanged a couple of texts.”
McCarthy is also keen to recruit Southampton’s Nathan Redmond and Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford to bolster his options ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying.
No meeting has been scheduled to speak with Redmond, but McCarthy is more hopeful of netting Bamford.
“I’ve spoken to Patrick,” he confirmed.
“I was due to go meet him at the Leeds game with QPR at the weekend but he was injured so he didn’t travel so I didn’t get a chance. But my intention is to meet him and have a chat. He wants to meet me.
“I do like him. I didn’t like him when he got player of the year in the Championship because [Daryl] Murphy should have it because he scored 27 goals – and he was a Championship player and not a player on loan from Chelsea.
“Bamford is a goalscorer, he’s a proven goalscorer; he’s technically a very good finisher and we haven’t got that many.”
With the Irish squad desperately short of forwards, McCarthy is hoping there are still a few games in Daryl Murphy on the international stage.
The Nottingham Forest striker, who started against Reading last weekend, hasn’t ruled out helping out his former Ipswich Town manager despite calling it a day after the Republic missed on World Cup qualification last summer.
“To be fair, we haven’t got that many that are playing,” McCarthy said.
“I spoke to Daryl Murphy [last Friday] and just told him that maybe that retirement might be put on hold, you never know.
“He said: ‘It’s tough playing games every week’. I was: ‘Ah shut up, just come in and play and get on with it.’
“Playing 46 games a season, travelling and playing international football is not going to be him because he’s getting to the twilight of his career. But on his day, he’s such a big powerful presence and he’s a good finisher, he’s a great lad as well.”
Shane Long returned to goal-scoring form in Southampton’s win over Leicester City at the weekend, while his club-mate Michael Obafemi, capped in Martin O’Neill’s last game in charge against Denmark, is making good progress.
Elsewhere, former Derry City striker Ronan Curtis is playing well for League One leaders Portsmouth as Preston North End’s Callum Robinson continues to rehab from a hamstring problem.
McCarthy also name-checked Ipswich Town’s on-loan striker Will Keane as a potential target despite having played for England at youth level. Keane qualifies for the Republic through his father.
And a recall could be on the cards for David McGoldrick who has bagged five goals in six games for Sheffield United, where Enda Stevens and John Egan should remain on Ireland’s radar.
The enigmatic Jeff Hendrick is back in favour at Burnley, team-mate Robbie Brady was suspended for last Saturday’s win over Fulham and 33-year-old Stephen Ward continues to get back into the first frame after surgery.
Worryingly, James McClean is not seeing much game-time at Stoke City these days, playing just 22 minutes in his side’s 3-1 defeat to Brentford on Saturday.
“[Stoke City's new manager] Nathan Jones plays a diamond and I don't see James [McClean] fitting into a diamond to be quite honest, he's a winger,” McCarthy added.
Cyrus Christie is still holding down his place at Fulham, likewise fellow defenders Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh at Brighton and Derby County respectively.
Ciaran Clark, who fell out of favour under O’Neill, was restored to the Newcastle United side and scored in their 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
Callum O’Dowda, rated highly by O’Neill, has been in and out at Bristol City but is currently back in their starting line-up and will be close to starting for McCarthy against Gibraltar in March.
Ireland’s undisputed number one Darren Randolph remains first choice at Middlesbrough and at Millwall striker Aiden O’Brien, who was given a few starts by O’Neill, could be retained ahead of Euro 2020 but his club-mate Shaun Williams has been out of favour at The Den.
Ahead of what was seen as his final international appearance against Northern Ireland last November, veteran midfielder Glenn Whelan insisted he would not retire from international duty – and McCarthy didn’t appear to rule out picking up the phone to the Aston Villa man.
“I was told he hadn’t retired. It is my intention to speak to him. I’ve spoken to nearly everyone else.”
As time ebbs and Declan Rice’s star continues to soar with West Ham, it looks increasingly likely the 19-year-old will declare for England after holding talks with Gareth Southgate.
Rice played three friendly games for the Republic and came through their youth system.
When speaking with reporters, McCarthy remained non-committal about his hopes of Ireland retaining Rice.
Meanwhile, Alan Kelly has been given the green light by Everton to work as Republic of Ireland’s goalkeeping coach.
“When we were talking at the [Euro 2020] draw, it was a little bit difficult because we hadn't been in contact but we have been in contact since. We've emailed the club, it's been sanctioned and it's fine,” McCarthy confirmed.
Euro 2020 Fixtures
March 23: Gibraltar (a); March 26: Georgia (h); June 7: Denmark (a); June 10: Gilbraltar (h); Sept 5: Switzerland (h): Oct 12: Georgia (a); Oct 15: Switzerland (a); Nov 18: Denmark (h)