McCarthy unruffled as Ireland handed second away play-off

‘The only game that matters to us now is Slovakia’ stresses Republic boss

Mick McCarthy accepts that the Nations League play-off draw could have gone better for the Republic of Ireland.

But he insists that if his side plays the way it did against Denmark on Monday night then it can still secure a place at Euro 2020.

“Home advantage is always an advantage because you don’t have to travel, you feel more comfortable,” said McCarthy after learning that if his team beats Slovkia away on March 26th they will face another one-off game on the road, either in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Belfast, for a place at next summer’s finals

“But I don’t go in for that thought process: ‘it’s hard to win away from home’. Would they be looking at us thinking ‘that’s an easy game against the Republic of Ireland’? Especially with how we played in the last game and in Denmark as well. I wouldn’t imagine so.  “The only game that matters to us now is Slovakia. If we win the first game against Slovakia then I will fancy our chances anywhere else. We will have our analysis done on all three teams but our focus is on Slovakia first and getting ready for them in the New Year.”

Asked if he would prefer to avoid a play-off final at Windsor Park, where the Republic clinched qualification for the 1994 World Cup finals in what was a toxic atmosphere, McCarthy said no, but that he would aware of how challenging it would be.

“You can’t start picking what games you would or wouldn’t like to play,” he said. “I’d just recognise it as a football match which would be very tough. I don’t know whether Michael O’Neill would be still in charge of them [that is the current understanding] but they’ve been a very good team and it would be an extremely difficult game. I hope we’re in a final wherever it is.”

If Bosnia beat Northern Ireland, Irish supporters are going to face the prospect of firming up arrangements to get there at the very last minute as there are only five days between the two games.

The venue will most likely to Zenica, where Ireland played a Euro2016 playoff game under Martin O’Neill four years ago and where the Bosnians played all but one of the group games in their most recent campaign.

Before that, however, there is the question of where the game in Slovakia will take place. The federation there has until December 20th to confirm the venue, but may do so as early as next week when the four associations are due to meet to discuss arrangements.

The FAI suggests that the early indications from the hosts have been that it will be at the recently revamped National Stadium in the capital, Bratislava rather than Trnava where they played their group games.

“Slovakia have intimated the game will take place in Bratislava,” said a spokesperson for the association here, “but they have some final checks to make on the ground there before they can confirm it as the venue.

“We have also opened talks with them on the allocation of tickets and will update our fans as soon as we can. We are guaranteed 5 per cent of the tickets (just over 1,000 based on the ground’s official capacity of 22,500) but we are negotiating for more. Tickets will be allocated to supporters based on away attendance records from the last two campaigns. We will announce the application process as soon as we know our allocation.”

Bar high McCarthy says that he has yet to familiarise himself with the Slovak team but acknowledges that the indications are it will be a tight enough affair. “The only one I can think of off the top of my head is [

veteran midfielder Marek] Hamsik. And the Newcastle goalkeeper [Martin Dubravka]. I’ve had no reason to know them. But I will know them all before I play them.

“It’s a fairly even game without a doubt, though. It’s where we both find ourselves, third in the group so we’ve got to go play them. But we know what we have to do, we have to go there and win the game. Home advantage is just that but if we play as well as we did against Denmark then I will settle for that. We set the bar high on Monday night and that is the standard we will have to play at to win two games.”

When asked, meanwhile, about the impact Jose Mourinho taking over at Tottenham might have on teenage striker Troy Parrott, McCarthy expressed the hope that the Portuguese follows through in hs comments this week about being happy to work with the club's young players.

“He’s come in talking about the academy,” he said, “so if that’s the case he [Parrott] will be quite pleased because he will get games. But,” he added, “I bet he [Mourinho] doesn’t know him.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times