Mick McCarthy arrives with little fanfare but a big job on his hands
New manager knows he has to do a bit of panel beating to knock dinged-up squad into shape
New Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy with FAI chief John Delaney at the Aviva Stadium. “Really it’s going to be about winning games.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
It was, above all else, an appropriate occasion for the times. Mick McCarthy’s return to the top job in Irish football was notably short of pomp and thoroughly without ceremony. It had none of the triumphant mood music of Brian Kerr’s appointment way back when, nor any of the giddy fascination of Giovanni Trapattoni’s first day. McCarthy has never been anyone’s idea of a star attraction, least of all his own.
This was never going to be a red carpet walk. The Ireland soccer team is dinged up and in bad shape and the new man is here to do a bit of panel beating and get it back on the road. It’s a far tougher job now than when he walked into it 22 years ago – McCarthy’s first team line-up back then read Given, Staunton, Kernaghan, McGrath, Phelan, McAteer, Keane, Townsend, Kennedy, Quinn, Aldridge – but he walks into it older, wiser and a better manager. He’s going to need to be.
“Wherever I’ve gone,” he said, “it’s seldom – no, never – have I gone to take over a team that was flying and doing well. I took over Wolves when they were relegated, Sunderland when they were about to be relegated. It generally needs picking up wherever I’ve gone for whatever reason. We should remind ourselves that it’s not long ago that we qualified for the European championships.”
The imperative to qualify for the next edition of that competition means his job now is stripped of all nuance. He is here for one campaign and one only. Whenever it ends, be it in the last qualifier for the Euros or in the final of the competition itself, he will hand the team over to Stephen Kenny. All questions about making the football easier on the eye or even just somewhat less risk-averse are to be seen in that context.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about styles of football,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot, read a lot, seen a lot. I’ve always found that winning football generally does it. Especially with eight or 10 games to play to qualify, really it’s going to be about winning games. And then if we did that or we got a play-off, then maybe we could get the players in, work with them, do different stuff.”
He rattled through some of the greatest hits. It took all of eight minutes for someone to mention Saipan, to which he mock-responded, “Why, what happened there?”
We can only thank our lucky stars that nobody thought to score a goal in Martin O’Neill’s last four games
On Declan Rice, he confirmed that he had spoken to the player’s father Seán over the weekend and would be going to meet them in due course. On how Robbie Keane came to be involved on the ticket, he said Keane rang him up himself and asked for the gig. “At first I thought, ‘You cheeky bollocks!’”
Alongside him, John Delaney seemed quite delighted with how it had all turned out. Only a week ago, a few surely baffled Danish stewards confiscated a banner lampooning him from the crowd walking into the stadium in Aarhus. Now, all was suddenly sorted. Just how safe a pair of hands McCarthy turns out to be remains to be seen but, for here and for now, any residual heat has been taken out of the situation for the FAI.
Throw in a spot of on-the-hoof succession planning in the shape of Kenny’s new underage gig and the promise of the top job in 2020 and, out of nowhere, the association look to have stumbled on a blueprint for the future. We can only thank our lucky stars that nobody thought to score a goal in Martin O’Neill’s last four games – it would have ruined the whole thing.
Suitably emboldened, Delaney took the opportunity to throw the odd elbow around the place. He leapt in particular on last week’s comments by Catherine Murphy TD, who called the FAI the most secretive of all the sporting bodies.
“I’ll give you one example in terms of my own salary, which is transparent,” Delaney said. “There are other sports bodies who for their own reason, and they are quite correct not to reveal their own CEO’s salary. I am probably one of the very few whose salary does get disclosed. I think when you do get to the arguments after people making comments and obviously maybe trying to get a bit of publicity for themselves, when you examine the facts, they don’t stand up.”
Good man, John. No time like the unveiling of a new Ireland soccer manager to make the shiny lads in the GAA and IRFU shift uneasily in their seats. Even if McCarthy’s panel-beating job isn’t up to scratch, Kenny’s ascension – when it happens – is a pre-baked new dawn, an automatic shield for Delaney to stand behind if and when the going gets tough. The games go on, the managers come and go, the politics never change.
Irish soccer in a nutshell.