McCarthy left with much to ponder before March play-offs

Doherty presses his claims for starting role while manager expresses faith in McGoldrick

Mick McCarthy is in no hurry, he says, to write off Séamus Coleman in the wake of Monday's Euro 2020 qualifying draw with Denmark.

But the Republic of Ireland manager admits that there will be a call to be made in the run up to the play-offs after a night on which Matt Doherty scored and seemed to bring a little more to the attacking side of the team's game.

It was not a flawless night for the 27-year-old Wolves defender who had a hand in the Danish goal too thanks to a mix up with Shane Duffy that resulted in neither man reacting as Martin Braithwaite was racing in between them to connect with Henrik Dalsgaard's angled cross.

Still, it was a generally good one and, after a disappointing night for Coleman in Geneva where he had been playing poorly even before he was sent off for a second bookable offence, it has ensured that McCarthy will have a choice to make where he had previously suggested there was none.


Doherty can count himself unfortunate that he was making only his 10th international appearance for the team on Monday and there is a lingering suspicion that McCarthy was too quick to ditch his attempt in Gibraltar to play the two men together.

There, Coleman retained the right back spot and the younger man started directly in front of him. The pair had not really played together before and the conditions were atrocious but 10 minutes into the second half the Dubliner was replaced with Robbie Brady.

Since then, his only start as been as a stand-in for the suspended Enda Stevens at left back in Tbilisi but the Sheffield United player has made that position very much his own and so, for Doherty, it came down to making a case for himself in the last group game, which he did.

“He played really well,” acknowledges the manager.

“We knew he was a good player and there is never anybody doubting his ability. But we don’t know what March is going to bring. When I get the players together, I’ll know who is fit and ready to go.

“It’s been a tight call all the time,” he continued, it’s just my preference was Séamus. Wait and see. I’m not going to make a story of what full back I’m going to play in March when we’re in November. I don’t know who will be here.”

McCarthy's bigger issue is how to build on the broader improvement shown by the wider team. Ireland put it up to the Danes in the way they had failed to do in any of the other recent encounters between the two sides with David McGoldrick doing well to bring players behind him into the game.

Three attempts

That contributed to the home side playing further up the pitch and avoiding the trap they usually fall into of dropping deep behind the ball then repeatedly resorting to hitting it long while under pressure and so surrendering possession.

That all said, in a game Ireland absolutely needed to win, the hosts had just three attempts (two more than their opponents) on target with a further five blocked by defenders. The concession of a goal notwithstanding, Kasper Schmeichel did not have a good save to make and probably the closest McGoldrick, who has not scored in nine Premier League appearances so far this season, came was a long-range effort in the first half.

Despite that, McCarthy is absolutely clear in his own mind that McGoldrick is his best option and still will be in the spring.

“He is our best striker, there is no doubt about it. I’m saying that and that’s not being detrimental to all of the other lads because I think they would recognise that as well. When March comes around, let’s hope he’s fit.

“Let’s hope Troy gets into the team and gets some football and we’d have another one. Seanie Maguire I thought came on and was excellent and he was excellent in the other game so we have some options.”

Parrott’s problem is that he is in a queue at Tottenham behind some really outstanding players and, barring a couple of serious injuries, it is hard to imagine precisely what would have to happen for the 17-year-old to see a lot more game time or whether manager Mauricio Pochettino’s sudden dismissal will help his cause at all.

Perhaps the more realistic prospect from McCarthy's perspective is Aaron Connolly getting a good deal more game time at Brighton where he has played 11 times, nine in the Premier League, this season and, of course, scored those two goals against Spurs.

The 19-year-old first caught the Ireland’s manager’s eye when playing for the Under-21s against Amernia is September when he was outstanding out on the left.

He spent a brief spell there away to the Swiss as McCarthy sought to address having started with the wrong formation. And, though he did rather less well against much better opponents, he could yet establish himself as a plausible alternative to James McClean for the role in which case Séamus Coleman might not be the only stalwart suddenly left to look on from the sidelines.

However his options develop over the next four months, McCarthy is confident his players will have shaken this week’s setback out of their systems by then.

“I think the disappointment of drawing the game and not qualifying for the Euros today will be a lot less in March,” he says.

“They have Christmas, how many games do they play over Christmas and then it’s into January. They will be forgetting all of what has happened here and when they come back in March they will be fresh for two games so that might be a positive as well.”

Five striking prospects for the future The seniors may have a major problem with goals, or finding a regular goalscorer, but Ireland appear to have a hugely promising crop of young strikers coming through with Under-21 manager Stephen Kenny's having looked to make the most of them in his European qualifiers.

Mick McCarthy’s successor will probably see all as contenders to feature when he takes over for the 2022 World Cup but one or two may still have an important part to play in March.

Aaron Connolly Already capped twice, the 19-year-old Galwayman has broken into the first team at Brighton and attracted an awful lot of attention when he scored twice against Tottenham in October. Has good close control, the ability to go past opponents and an eye for a pass. Could certainly be seen as more important by the time the play-offs come around.

Troy Parrott Clearly regarded by many as having the brightest future of the lot, the 17-year-old Dubliner displays for both Irish and Tottenham underage sides tick all of the right boxes. He is confident, strong, good on the ball and a natural finisher. Has next to no first team experience, though, and while McCarthy started him against new Zealand, when he did quite well, he is actually starting to get caught slightly at present in the no man's land between his club's youth and first team set ups. Jonathan Afolabi The young Dubliner was released by Southampton at the end of last season but ended up being one of the summer's most sought-after young free agents after making it to the Team of the Tournament at the Under-19 European Championships. Previously, in the elite (second) phase of qualifying, he had scored three goals in three games. Having signed for Celtic in August, Neil Lennon said the striker was "on the cusp" of the first team. He has yet to actually play for it, however.

Michael Obafemi Dublin-born but raised in London, Obafemi made his senior international debut in the scoreless Nations League draw away to Denmark a year ago. Over the early part of this season he has continued to get the odd look in at Southampton and came on late in the 2-1 defeat by Everton last week. So far, however, McCarthy has seemed happy for him to be a part of the Under-21s and his progress has been hindered somewhat by a couple of injuries.

Adam Idah Another striker of Nigerian background, Idah spent 10 years at College Corinthians before moving to Norwich in 2017. He moved into the senior set-up there over the summer and made his first team debut in the League Cup defeat by Crawley a couple of months back. It didn't go too well but he is still regarded as having huge promise by the club. Tall and strong, Idah has been a regular scorer in pretty much every youth team he has featured in in recent years.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times