Mick McCarthy: New handball rules will punish defenders

Manager reckons Ireland can handle loss of Shane Long for Denmark and Gibraltar games

Mick McCarthy says he is relieved that the new rules relating to handball won't come into effect in the coming week's European Championship qualifiers. The Republic of Ireland manager believes that they will make life even harder for defenders already struggling under the pressure to avoid conceding penalties.

"I think the second goal conceded by Spurs, I think the penalty decision had a real affect on that as I think the defender should have slid on the ground all in," he said at an event in the Aviva Stadium to promote the FAI's sponsorship from men's clothing suppliers Benetti.

“But if it hits you on the arm it’s a penalty, so he goes like that (McCarthy, holds his arms behind his back) and that’s an unnatural position. You can’t move as quickly, as lively, as energetically like that; no question.

“You try running with your arms behind your back, or with them up. I think VAR has [been a good thing]. Ultimately that has affected who ends up winning major competitions, which is right. But the new rules? I’ll be interested to see.”


The rule in relation to handball is just one of several changes to have been introduced on Saturday, but it is the key one, with the rule makers having sought to bring “clarity” by shifting the basis for the referee’s decision from “intent” to “physical” effect.

Acting deliberately

Essentially, contact by the ball with an outstretched arm is now far more likely to penalised, as the match officials will not generally have to suppose that the player was acting deliberately in order to take action. But because the qualifying campaign, like the Champions League, started before the changes took effect, the organisers do not have to adopt the new rules this time around. McCarthy, who has the air of a man who reckons he had enough problems under the old system, is clearly relieved.

It's getting to the point where if it hits your hand or arm it's going to be a penalty

“I’ll go back as far as Macedonia [22 years ago] and Jason McAteer getting a penalty given against him. I still don’t think it was a penalty . . . but I’ve got over it!

“He came over it and it hit his arm, hasn’t it. It’s getting to the point where if it hits your hand or arm it’s going to be a penalty. But then it’ll be a tactic used where players are cute and will chip the ball up at someone’s hand, unless they have it behind their back.

“If they kick it against their hand, it will be a penalty. That will be so nauseating for everyone who concedes. But I’d tell them to do it! Of course I would, because they will do it to us.”

The manager confirmed that Shane Long will miss Friday's game against Denmark and Monday's at home to Gibraltar with a hamstring injury sustained in training, and voiced the concern that if he does not start next season as a regular at his club then it will be difficult for the 32-year-old to completely regain the levels of fitness on which his high-powered game is based.

‘Explosive player’

“Well, he’s always been a very explosive player and a physical player,” he said. “I’ve admired him since he played for Reading. He was another one we looked at. And at West Brom, when he played against us in the play-offs, he was a real threat.

“With his power and pace, he really upsets defenders. And if you’re playing like that all the time it’s bound to take a toll. There are times when you get an injury, though, and it’s one after another, you don’t really get over the other one. You come back and you’re so desperate to play and you get another little niggle. He’s got to have a full pre-season now and hopefully he comes back. If he starts the season . . . there’s a problem if you don’t; you can never replicate playing that 90 minutes.”

I've got plenty to pick from, so losing one, while it's disappointing, it's not the end of the world

McCarthy, however, has all but said he will stick with the side that started against Georgia, one that featured David McGoldrick up front with James McClean and Robbie Brady on either side, so Long's loss is not quite the blow it might have been – although he still seems likely to have featured over the course of the two qualifiers.

"Well, we've got Didsy [McGoldrick], Sean Maguire. Callum Robinson plays up there," said McCarthy about his remaining options. "We've also got Scott Hogan. I've got plenty to pick from, so losing one, while it's disappointing, it's not the end of the world. That's probably the strongest selection pool that I've got.

“But I came in here the other day and I was asked about the team and I said about the Georgia game and how well they played. So, if you’re picking a team would you do anything differently?”