Ireland ready to play real football on Gibraltar’s ‘plastic’ pitch

No whingeing, says Mick McCarthy, as Seán Maguire hopes to score first goal for Ireland

Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar: “The pitch is fine. I was on it and it’s fine; it’s just a different bounce,” said the Ireland manager. Photograph:  Marcos Moreno/AFP/Getty Images

Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar: “The pitch is fine. I was on it and it’s fine; it’s just a different bounce,” said the Ireland manager. Photograph: Marcos Moreno/AFP/Getty Images

 

Mick McCarthy insists that whatever happens in Gibraltar on Saturday evening, the Victoria Stadium’s artificial pitch won’t be used as an excuse by Ireland. The manager travelled to see the venue last week and insists that while the hosts will hope it gives them an advantage, his players are simply focused on taking all three points.

The squad travelled on Thursday after a morning training session out at Abbotstown in which everyone bar Seán Maguire played a full part, with the Ireland manager happy again to allow the Preston striker to follow the schedule set out by his club.

“I don’t whinge about what we have to do, there’s no point,” says McCarthy. “The pitch is fine. I was on it and it’s fine; it’s just a different bounce.

“I guess the opposition, if they play on it regularly, they know it’s a different surface and they will try to use it; it’s almost like psychological warfare that one, with the plastic pitch. But we’ve just got to go and play on it and so we will get on with it.”

Hard to break down

The threat posed by the home side, such as it is, largely comes on the break and from set-pieces, with Uruguayan coach Julio César Ribas setting them up to be hard to break down, according to McCarthy, who is inevitably that little bit more wary after a year in which Gibraltar won three of seven games, two of them in the Nations League. Previously their record had been just one win in 29 international outings.

The best of the results was an away win in Armenia, but clearly McCarthy does not want to suffer the ignominy of Ireland becoming their biggest scalp to date by returning home with anything less than a victory.

You’ve just got to go and adapt to your surroundings as far as I’m concerned, and so we’ll make the best of it

“They make it really tough to play against,” he says, “just pack in and defend and try to catch you on the break. They can get on the ball and play a bit too. If we allow them to they will; they will certainly try and keep it.

“But we know we’ve got to go to Gibraltar,” he says. “We know it’s a plastic pitch. We know there’ll be 2,300 people there. It’s about your mental approach going into the game. It only affects you if you allow it to affect you. You’ve just got to go and adapt to your surroundings as far as I’m concerned, and so we’ll make the best of it.”

First time around

Reminded of his first game in charge his first time around, a 5-0 win in Liechtenstein, he simply says: “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

David Connolly got a hat-trick that day in May 1997, and Maguire would desperately love to get the opportunity to do something similar against Gibraltar this weekend.

The 24-year-old’s attempts to get his international career into full swing has been hit a couple of times by serious hamstring injuries but, having scored three in his last seven games for Preston, including a dramatic late winner against Birmingham at the weekend, he is hoping that these games, these opponents (Ireland also play Georgia next Tuesday), might have come at the right time for him.

Seán Maguire: “Hopefully I’m on my A game come Saturday and get my first goal.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Seán Maguire: “Hopefully I’m on my A game come Saturday and get my first goal.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“I hope so,” he says. “It could be a great opportunity in next couple of games to score my first goal for Ireland. When I put the Irish jersey on, I haven’t really done myself justice. I know I’ve only had one start and a few cameos here, but I haven’t played particularly well. These could be games where I could kick on. And I’m ready.

“It’s a big opportunity,” he continues. “Obviously we can’t underestimate them, they won their first game last year, and they won’t be pushovers. It will be one of those underdog stories but, as a striker, this is the type of game where you expect there will be a few opportunities, and so they are the games you want to play in. Hopefully I’m on my A game come Saturday and get my first goal.”

Judgment call

McCarthy has spoken very positively about the Preston striker who, in turn, speaks very highly about getting the opportunity to work with Robbie Keane now that Ireland’s record goalscorer is part of the management set-up. But the team selection on Saturday is bound to be influenced by a judgment call on Maguire’s ability to cope physically.

For people to compare me to Robbie Keane would be a bit unfair to me because Robbie is a world-class player

The player himself has no doubts. The pitch, he insists, is not a concern given the particular nature of a muscle problem that now requires him to do 45 minutes in the gym warming up before every training session. His match sharpness has been returning with each passing week, as the goals suggest.

“I’m a goalscorer so I back myself to score goals given the opportunity,” he says. “For people to compare me to Robbie or put me on a par with him would probably be a bit unfair to me because Robbie is a world-class player. But, as I think my record for Cork and, when I am fit, for Preston shows, I score goals. I’m not 100 per cent back to my best but I feel like I’m getting there. I feel like if I just get that one then the rest will take care of itself. Hopefully that happens this weekend.”

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