McCarthy trains sights on ‘massive tournament’ as injury fears recede
Ireland midfielder relieved to get ‘a sweat on’ after struggling with groin and hamstring
An injured Robbie Keane and physio Tony McCarthy go for a cycle on the Republic of Ireland squad base on Fota Island, Cork. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
James McCarthy says he is relieved to be back in full training with the Ireland squad after a worrying spell on the sidelines appeared to cast some doubt over his participation at the European Championships.
As Robbie Keane took to cycling around the squad’s training ground at Fota Island and Jon Walters once again spent the session working on his own with one of the physios, McCarthy played an almost normal part, which suggests he is getting close to full fitness again.
Not before time, suggests the 25 year-old who limped out of Everton’s last game of the season in some pain having scored only his second goal of the campaign. He then took some time away to rest what turned out to be a combined groin and hamstring problem and missed Ireland’s two warm-up games.
“It’s been very frustrating sitting about, waiting to take part,” he says.
“It’s just nice to be out there training and getting a bit of a sweat on to be honest.”
Martin O’Neill had made it more or less plain that the midfielder would be included in his 23 as he felt that McCarthy was important enough to the group to bring even if there was a major doubt about his availability for the first game – which there appears not to be at this stage.
But the player admits to having been concerned as the problem endured longer than expected.
“Obviously all sorts of things go through your head,” he says.
“You’re worrying about the tournament, obviously the first game, training towards the first game.
“You want to be fit, I don’t want to miss training, I want to work hard before this tournament and have a right go.
“But it seemed to not really go away for a week and obviously I had a week before when I relaxed. I knew it was giving me a bit of pain.
“I came off for Everton in the last game of the season with it and I said to David Unsworth at the time that I was in pain and he took me off.
“I rested all week and tried to go for a run before we met up and I could feel it. I spoke to the doc here and the manager and he rested me up and since then I’ve just been resting, doing wee bits here and there and I could still feel it.
“But as I said, the last couple of days it’s started to clear up and hopefully that’s me back to getting fit and being involved with the team.
“Hopefully I can kick on and have a right good go. Each and every one of us in the squad knows how important it is to try to get out of this group. We’ve got to take it a game at a time and obviously we’ll look forward to it.”
McCarthy recalls watching the 2002 World Cup as youngster in Scotland with his Donegal-born grandfather Paddy Coyle and says he and the rest of the squad are getting genuinely excited about the prospect of playing on such a big stage themselves.
“I’m buzzing, to be honest. Each and every one of us within the squad knows how much it means to us, our family, friends, the fans; everyone involved.
“It’s a massive tournament. Obviously the last tournament we had a go but maybe we were a bit overrun. It was a difficult tournament for us.
“But this year we’re confident; we’ve had a lot of good results – not so much the other night against Belarus, but apart from that we’ve had a right go since the boss has come in and we’re all very excited. We know what we need from each and every one of us, and we’re looking forward to it.
His Everton team-mate Romelu Lukaku, he knows, may have a big part to play in how the group pans out.
The striker went 10 games without a goal at the end of the season after a run of 18 in 23, but he seems to be right back on form having scored in both of Belgium’s friendlies over the past week.
“He’s a top player, he’s proved that in the Premier League. He’s scored some big goals for us this season, the last few seasons to be honest.
“We’ll obviously look out for Rom but there’s a team full of talented players there with Belgium.
“But you look at Sweden and they’ve got a lot of individuals and they’re a good side as well and then obviously Italy. We’ll take it a game at a time and try not to look too far ahead.”