FAI hope to retain seeding

 

FAI officials hope that despite a sharp drop in standards, the Republic of Ireland will be included among the second seeded countries when the draw for the European championship is made in Ghent, Belgium, next month.

This is the status they were given for each of the last two major tournaments, the 1996 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup in which they failed to reach the finals of either.

In each instance, however, they qualified for a play-off, against Holland in December 1995 and Belgium last month and Des Casey a member of some of UEFA's most influential committees, believes that this could be crucial in protecting their status.

"They are still working out exact details of how the seeds will be made but at this point, I think there are at least some grounds for optimism," he said.

It looks as if the co-efficient to be used in determining the seeds, will be based on performances in the last two championships and having been involved in a play-off for the finals on each occasions, Ireland could just scrape in for one of the last of the number two ratings".

This would be interpreted as an encouraging augury for the Irish. The great fear is that they could be dropped to a third seeding, making the task of qualification for the finals in Belgium/Holland in the year 2000, still more difficult.

Meanwhile, Mick McCarthy has identified Manchester United's Roy Keane as the player around whom he proposes to build his team for the next European championship.

Shortly after signing a new two-year contract yesterday he spoke of the challenge of replacing Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton and Tony Cascarino, all of whom are expected to have departed from international football before the start of his European programme.

Inevitably, he was asked about Keane's rate of recovery from an operation to repair a torn cruciate ligament and the impact he was expected to have on his European campaign. Equally predictable was the upbeat nature of the response.

"He's the one who obviously comes to mind when you speak of players capable of doing the kind of leadership job which people like Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton did in the past. Before his injury, he was enjoying his best year with Ireland, a player who set the standards for others around him and as such, he was a terrible loss.

"I haven't spoken with him since his operation but I think he's doing fine. At the back of your mind, there is always the doubt, always the question if he will get back to where he was before the injury.

"The other part of that scenario is that his operation has gone well, his commitment to training has always been superb and in that situation, there is no reason why he shouldn't be as good as he was, when he eventually gets back."

In a climate in which the disappointment of the World Cup is still all too raw, the question of how European championship elimination might effect the manager's status got short shrift.

McCarthy wasn't amused in being asked that kind of question at this stage of proceedings but he did eventually concede that it would probably mean a parting of the ways, possibly on his initiative.

On the development of the younger players in the squad, he said: "There are three stages involved for youngsters - getting into the squad, then into the team and once there, doing well enough to have the same influence as some of the departing senior players.

"Many of the lads are still only tackling the third part but they're getting there. It's an ongoing process and with luck, they're going to be very effective in our European games."

Before McCarthy and his players get to that point, they will have been involved in three friendly fixtures, a foreign assignment in March followed by home games in April and May. Switzerland are being canvassed for the March fixture but the remaining two games may depend on tomorrow's World Cup draw in Marseille.

Countries, drawn with England and Scotland, will be anxious to familiarise themselves with British style opposition and in that situation, the expectation is that the FAI will have relatively few problems in filling in the home dates after the preliminaries for France '98 have been put in place.

Even then, however, they may have to await the European championship draw in Ghent next month, before ratifying the fixtures. Obviously, countries grouped with Ireland in that competition, would not be keen on showing their hand in friendly games in the spring.

McCarthy also confirmed yesterday that he is hoping to arrange a "B" international game, possibly against Scotland in February, with the specific purpose of putting players like Gareth Farrelly, Graham Kavanagh and Mark Kinsella in the showcase.