No appetite for negativity as Ireland prepare for Swiss role
Manager Mick McCarthy says he’ll take a draw – and a lot more enthusiasm from media
Shane Duffy, manager Mick McCarthy and assistant manager Robbie Keane at Republic of Ireland squad training. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
There was some surprise as Mick McCarthy used the N-word for the first time in a while at his pre-match press conference here in Geneva. Yup, he’s getting the sense that there might “negativity” in the air . . . well, not quite that, but a lack of “positivity” anyway, and he doesn’t know why. The tone of it all seemed a little puzzling, although, to be fair, his emphatic assertion that he would be “absolutely” happy with a draw on Tuesday evening hadn’t done a whole lot to lift levels of anticipation, which he felt were disappointingly low in the room.
The most obvious beneficiaries of a draw here would be Denmark as, assuming they beat Gibraltar at home, it would effectively put them through. The upside from an Irish perspective is that Age Hareide and co would then come to Dublin in November with nothing of any consequence to play for, and Ireland might find them easier to beat. There is, of course, a fairly firm logic to the proposition, although it is somewhat at odds with the Irish manager’s repeated assertion in the wake of Saturday’s stalemate in Georgia that the home side had played with more “freedom” because they had nothing at stake.
“I just don’t get the sense there is some sense of anticipation or excitement and there should be,” he said, in any case. “I’ve been asked if it is a cup final. No, but I’m excited about it. I don’t get the sense in here from you guys that we might win at all, that you might be celebrating the fact that you might have the Euros to be writing about. I’m not getting that feeling. It’s not a negative vibe I’m getting; it’s just not one of positivity that we can do it, which is a different feeling.”
The cup final comparison had actually been made by his opposite number, Vladimir Petkovic, then put to McCarthy. It seemed appropriate enough in the circumstances, but the Irishman insisted that it is not “do or die” for his side in the way that it is for the Swiss (the hosts, like their manager, will be in big trouble if they fail to win). And, when asked if he would take a draw, he replied with surprising conviction: “Absolutely.”
I saw Ireland when they played in Denmark, and they weren’t all that bad at all
To be fair, he did insist on a number of occasions that the aim is to win, something that would indeed put Ireland into the finals. But he wouldn’t give any clues as to how he hopes to engineer the improvement required over Saturday’s performance to secure Ireland’s first win here in five attempts, a run that stretches all the way back to 1937.
That was a friendly but McCarthy, as it happens, played in the last Irish side to beat the Swiss in a competitive game, a 3-0 win in 1985. As if the head-to-head stats weren’t enough, Petkovic threw one in himself as he dealt with questions about his future, pointing out that his side has not lost a qualifier at home since the very first one he oversaw, against England, five years ago.
More damning, though, was his reply to a question about Peter Schmeichel having told Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer that the Irish team is “so bad” that the he and his team mates need not worry about the possibility of dropping points. “I saw Ireland when they played in Denmark,” he said, “and they weren’t all that bad at all.”
For his part, McCarthy actually conceded that the Swiss are “are probably the best team in the group, but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll win games. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll beat us. What I’d like and what happens are sometimes two different things. We tried [in Georgia], it didn’t work, we are disappointed with how we passed the ball, but tomorrow is another game.
It will, of course, be very much the same team, and so a key element of the plan for victory will be for those players who performed so poorly in Tbilisi to be an awful lot better here. Enda Stevens will almost certainly return, after a suspension, at left back, but the key question is whether Aaron Connolly will start.
On that, there were no answers but, McCarthy has seemed to hint more than once that he will. For him to make a decisive difference here seems a huge ask, but he certainly did enough at the weekend to merit his place in the starting line-up, and there are not too many about whom that can be said.
If the manager is feeling all that positivity, though, the 19-year-old may be in line for the night of his life.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Egan (Sheffield United), Stevens (Sheffield United); Hendrick (Burnley), Whelan (Hearts), Hourihane (Aston Villa), McClean (Stoke City); Robinson (Sheffield United); Connolly (Brighton).
SWITZERLAND: Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach); Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Schär (Newcastle United), Akanji (Borussia Dortmund); Mbabu (Wolfsburg), Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal), Rodriguez (Milan), Embolo (Borussia Monchengladbach); Mehmedi (Wolfsburg), Seferovic (Benfica).
Referee: S Marciniak (Poland).