Brian Kerr expects to see Mick McCarthy leading Ireland to the expanded Euro Finals in 2020, especially if tomorrow’s draw in Dublin offers the hosts one of the more favourable groups.
“You could end up with a fairly handy group that you should be able to come first or second in, even as a third seed,” he says. “Look at the first seeds and, if you had a choice, you’d take either Switzerland or Poland. Even though Mick and I don’t have great memories of Switzerland — Mick said that to me recently.
“With the second lot of teams, if you’re picking it today based on the Nations League, you’d pick Iceland. And there are plenty of others in the second pot. Even Denmark and Wales, we should be able for them. You’d be in the running in the matches. And then if you don’t make it, you get another go at it (through the Nations League play-offs). There’s nearly one for everyone in the audience at the moment.”
The former national team manager — who teamed up with Uefa partners Volkswagen Ireland to help launch the draw — thinks Ireland should be able to make a good showing in the qualifying campaign even though he accepts that McCarthy definitely had stronger panels to choose from in the past.
“Of course he had, but I don’t think the quality of the players rules out being competitive in a group,” he says. “If you take the middle tier of countries, I’d put Wales, Scotland and Denmark in there. Slovenia, Belarus, Lithuania. There’s loads of them. Should we be giving them a match no matter what players we have? Of course, we should. A lot of those countries would be delighted to have players playing in the Championship but they’re not good enough. I think there are enough players.
“The problem for Mick is he doesn’t have any matches to prepare. He’ll have to go around and evaluate players. So his job is difficult. But once he gets that first match played, and he has seen those players close up, then he gets to match two and he’s maybe then changed two or three players and that will help him make his mind up, because he will have seen them playing for their clubs as well. Unfortunately the process has to happen in the qualification games but there’s not much he can do about that. He will need to use his experience to make those decisions the best he can. And no better man.”
Kerr, who rates McCarthy highly but would have been happy to see Stephen Kenny succeed Martin O’Neill, is still scratching his head at the FAI’s decision to simultaneously appoint a senior manager and a senior manager-in-waiting.
“But I’m not surprised that Mick has taken it. You might say it’s a bit of an insult to him that they’re not offering him longer but, as he said himself, maybe he’ll get another job and in the meantime he’ll have had the profile and he’ll be well rewarded for doing a job that certainly is not as intense as the type of club jobs he has had.” (For the record, asked if he would have taken the job under the same terms, Kerr laughs and says: “At €1.2m, if your figures are any way right, bloody sure I would!”).
“For Stephen, he’s getting his ambition — to be the senior manager. He’s been promised it, he’s said he has it in writing, which I think is just as well. But how it’s all come together is rather strange.
“And the speed of it… On the Monday night we (Kerr and Mick McCarthy) were covering Denmark v Ireland (on TV) and I was doing analysis and I was honestly struggling to find a good minute of the game from an Irish point of view.
“There were a couple of little things early in the match but in the second half there was less than that. Funny, I was joking with Mick afterwards and I said, ‘the way this is going, the other fella could be with us in a few weeks and the three of us will be sitting here talking’. And we had a bit of a laugh about it.”
As words like bizarre, unusual and unprecedented are exchanged, Kerr grins and says: “We’re not far from GUBU there, are we?”
But, for all that, he thinks the double appointment can be a positive development for Irish football.
“There is no reason to say that it won’t work,” he declares. “They are two very good people. All of us know Stephen, have seen his progress and seen how his teams have played. We know his character and enthusiasm for the game, his work ethic, his ability to drive the roads of Ireland up and down to Donegal and still not miss a player he thinks that he can do something with. We have all been surprised at times by the fellows he has signed. In the early stages at Dundalk, I know that I said to myself ‘I’m not sure about him’. But he shined them up, turned them into jewels and sent them on into the international team.
“So, yes, of course it can work.”