Mick McCarthy insists he has a very good relationship with Stephen Kenny, flatly denying any tension exists between the pair as the succession plan surrounding the Republic of Ireland manager's job nears completion.
The incumbent performed the unusual role of representing his employers at the Uefa Nations League draw in Amsterdam on Tuesday, even though the matches in Group B4 against Wales, Finland and Bulgaria will be overseen by the current under-21 manager.
McCarthy was adamant afterwards that Kenny got the best available draw, given the quality of the alternatives and the logistical challenges.
A Sunday Times report relayed minutes of an FAI board meeting at which former chief executive John Delaney claimed McCarthy was disappointed following a speech Kenny gave at a function just two months after being headhunted from Dundalk.
“I just wonder where people get stories from,” said McCarthy. “Suddenly, now, what John Delaney says carries some credence but it hadn’t over the last 12 months.
“I saw the story and I’ve got no issue with Stephen at all. If you want a story, ask Stephen if I’ve any problem with him. Or if we have any problem with each other. Stephen and I get on very, very well.”
McCarthy could be handing the senior responsibilities over to Kenny within a matter of weeks if Ireland fail to win their play-offs to the European finals they will jointly host.
Three friendlies have been arranged by the FAI for June, with Turkey and Luxembourg providing the opposition in two of them, but it’s unclear yet who will be at the helm.
Ireland must tackle the play-offs without their influential captain after McCarthy confirmed Everton right-back Séamus Coleman had torn his thigh muscle.
Concerns had been raised when the Donegal man had to be substituted in Everton’s draw against Manchester United on Sunday, and now the extent of the damage has been ascertained.
“Séamus pulled his thigh and won’t be here,” he said. “I’m told he could be out for up to six weeks.”
Matt Doherty of Wolves is favourite to deputise for the semi-final play-off against Slovakia in Bratislava on March 26th, and the final five days later against either Northern Ireland or Bosnia should Ireland progres. But McCarthy also spoke in glowing terms of Cyrus Christie after watching him in action for Fulham last Saturday.
Shane Long is another player set to be on the plane to Bratislava following his recent resurgence at Southampton, but his teammate Michael Obafemi, who scored in the loss at West Ham at the weekend, looks to be struggling for inclusion.
That same thought process applies for fellow youngsters Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott, while James McCarthy may also be excluded when the 23-man squad is unveiled on March 13th.
“Troy has got no chance of making the squad unless he’s playing,” asserted McCarthy. “Forget it; don’t even think about it. Unless, of course, Troy gets in over the weekend and does something amazing. If he comes on for five minutes and scores two goals, I might look at it different.
“Look, where has Aaron Connolly gone? He’s disappeared. I saw Michael Obafemi playing for Southampton against Burnley and he did okay in the game. He’s a kid who hasn’t got much game-time. And this match against Slovakia is huge. It is one for experienced players.
"Shane Long's been playing in the Premier League and Scott Hogan has scored six goals in the last seven games. David McGoldrick is back playing. I don't think Troy comes close to them.
"Does James do any more than Glen Whelan does?" asked the manager rhetorically. "No, he doesn't. He sits in front of the back four, does it nice and simple, breaks things up. I've been happy with the midfield players."
With Uefa discussing contingency plans in the face of the coronavirus, such as staging the play-offs behind closed doors, McCarthy isn’t getting distracted.
"It's out of my hands – or is it on my hands!" he joked. "Scotland manager Steve Clarke is not here today because it was an unnecessary risk. I'm not going to knock them for doing that but I'm not going to sit at home on my hands and not come.
“All I can do is have a look at them and analyse what we can do against them, strengths and weaknesses.
“It won’t matter wherever we play them. If they move it to a neutral venue, well, where is neutral? I haven’t heard that Slovakia has it yet so maybe that’s the only neutral place.”
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed on Tuesday the depths of the FAI's financial problems when it was forced to step in following Delaney's departure.
“Let me say, it was quite bad, quite bad,” said the Slovenian, whose organisation is a central cog in the bailout deal recently brokered. “We will give the FAI the same money as we give to the other associations.”