McCarthy considering starting Connolly against Georgia
Republic of Ireland boss still hoping Duffy is fit enough to play some part in double header
Kevin Long and Aaron Connolly taking part in the Republic of Ireland squad session at the FAI National Training Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
He was, he said nearly a week ago, “optimistic” that Shane Duffy might yet play some part in the enormously important double header his Irish side is about to embark upon in the coming days.
By yesterday, there was even a little bit of confidence about Mick McCarthy as he considered the Derryman’s updated prospects of playing some part.
The big defender might yet not make it but if “acceptance” is the seventh stage of a manager coming to terms with the unexpected absence of a key player for a crunch game, then the 60-year-old is clearly keeping it bay at least until he sees just who precisely is on the plane to Tbilisi.
“I’ve just had a text message from Shane,” said McCarthy ahead of the squad’s first training session of the week at Abbotstown. “He’s been out on the grass, he’s feeling good, he’s going to do all the tests and he’s hoping he’s fit.
“He said: ‘If I’m still selected I definitely want to be there’. I said ‘You are still selected, we definitely want you here. The plane leaves at two o’clock on Thursday, we’ll keep you a seat with extra leg room and don’t be late’. That was my message to him.”
David McGoldrick checking in late remains a possibility too and McCarthy is equally enthusiastic about the striker who is another of his favourites. He does not, however, sound quite so convinced that it is going to happen.
“I’ve not heard from him for the last couple of days,” he said in relation to the Sheffield United player.
“I’ve just left him, he’s in a process of trying to get fit, if he gets fit, the same applies; he can get on the plane on Thursday. If he can’t, but he’s fit for Sunday and can travel, that’s fine and we’ll fly him out to Geneva. ”
He would hardly say it but at least a little of the urgency must have been taken out of the McGoldrick situation by the Aaron Connolly one.
There were other goalscorers over the weekend amongst this squad but none was as celebrated and while McCarthy’s demeanour can often seem downbeat, even when the Gods appear to be smiling on him, he acknowledged that the 19-year-old had, around Saturday lunchtime, announced himself as “an option” which can only be a good thing. More than that, though, the manager sounded as though he may well yet be availing of it.
“It’s not a guarantee but he’s played against Spurs who are one of the top teams even if they are not playing like that at the moment,” he said.
“They [young players] have to prove themselves at every level and he has proved himself for me. He has proved to be the difference in a really top league; if somebody gets into the Premier League and has done what Aaron has done, well, that gives me something to think about.
“He plays with personality as well. He is aggressive, he runs at people. He’s out there trying to change the game which I really like. I have not seen that much of him but I’ve seen his performance on Saturday and I saw him against Armenia when I thought that he was great.
“We’ll be playing 4-3-3 with three up front [on Saturday] and he could play in any of those three roles. You have to be fairly flexible and fluid when you play in those positions, you cannot play in straight lines. But I don’t doubt that he could play in any one of them.”
He is unlikely to displace James McClean on the left assuming he is fit and while the 30-year-old has arrived in with a back problem that kept him in the pool yesterday, he is expected to be fine for Saturday at this stage.
McCarthy meanwhile, gave a fairly firm indication that Matt Doherty will start at left back.
“Enough people have been screaming for him to play so he might get his chance at left back,” he said. “I don’t have too many options and I don’t have to see Matt Doherty play at full-back. Derrick Williams can play there, although he sees himself as a left-sided centre back and I think that is his best position. They are my options and I’ll pick from the players I have got.”