Ireland squad in better shape as Swiss test looms ever larger
Key players have some game time under their belts, says manager Mick McCarthy
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy: ‘All the lads that were in the team that I was really concerned about have gone and played.’ Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Having delayed the final naming of his squad for Thursday’s game against Switzerland last week so that potentially key players could get game time under their belts, Mick McCarthy believes his squad is in significantly better shape as they step up their preparations for the fifth qualifier of the campaign.
McCarthy admits he was concerned a couple of weeks ago by the lack of first-team football a few of his regular starters had had, but seemed much more relaxed about the situation as the group prepared to train together at Abbotstown on Monday.
“They all got in the teams over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Glenn [Whelan] is remarkable, he’s had two games against Celtic and then on Saturday [versus Hamilton]. That’s from him not kicking a ball. Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane has too and he has scored a couple of goals; all the lads that were in the team that I was really concerned about have gone and played.”
Shane Long, he insisted, has missed out purely and simply because he has scarcely featured at Southampton, but the improved fortunes of the others, he suggests, has taken the pressure off, as James McCarthy and Harry Arter have stayed at their clubs in order to focus on their fitness.
Arter, he says, would have had a real chance of starting had the likes of Hendrick, Hourihane and Whelan not been given the opportunity to prove themselves at club level but McCarthy, he maintains, was never going to start against such strong opponents.
“I watched him in the cup game against Colchester,” McCarthy says, “and James is very good at being conservative, sitting there and having the ball and keeping hold of it. But he wouldn’t be ready to play against the Swiss.”
The start the team has made to this campaign is restoring confidence to a side that looked desperately short of it at times last year.
They might not win things but they’ve been one of the top teams in Europe for a long time
“I look at it as we’ve got the points we had to get to give us half a chance of qualifying. The Denmark point was a real bonus. We had to get nine from the other three games and we did. I think the others will get nine from those games, Gibraltar home and away and Georgia at home. They were essential points and we’ve got the tougher games to come.
Switzerland, he says, “are a good side. They were very possession-based, with technical players who work hard. The manager has a good system and good players who are at good clubs in that system. They might not win things but they’ve been one of the top teams in Europe for a long time.”
Xherdan Shaqiri, he acknowledged, should be a loss but he remains wary, he says, of the different problems the Swiss might pose in his absence. “When you’re planning and analysing a team performance, you can prepare to play whoever will replace him a bit better because he can do things off the cuff, he can produce moments of magic in games. But I wouldn’t underestimate the other players who step in for him.”