One of the pleasing aspects about having Mick McCarthy back as Ireland manager is that, when he’s at the other end of a microphone, he doesn’t do diplomatic niceties and he generally avoids speaking in code.
After we talked to him at the Aviva this week, no-one had any need to turn to the well-worn euphemism “thinly-veiled” to describe the naked exasperation that was on display as he described his long and thus far, fruitless quest to set up a meeting with Patrick Bamford to see if the Leeds striker is really keen on declaring for Ireland.
“I’ve been doing all the chasing in terms of trying to get to meet him and his dad,” McCarthy said in that distinctive Barnsley brogue which never does anything to lessen the punchy impact of his words. “I think it’s time, that if he wants to play, he picks the phone up and gets hold of me… He full well knows now that I’ve been doing my damnedest to meet him.”
That McCarthy believes it can and should be whole lot simpler than that was clear from his similarly robust take on the contrast supplied by Will Keane’s immediate and unambiguous declaration about coming on board, even if a hamstring injury has temporarily put a halt to the Ipswich player’s involvement.
“I asked him and he went ‘yeah, I’d love to’. No shit, Sherlock!” The unhappy conclusion — for Ireland — of the Declan Rice saga hangs heavy over all of this, of course. Had the West Ham man come down in favour of staying green and then gone on to live up to billing by playing a starring role for Ireland in the Euros campaign, you can be sure that there would be plenty willing to say that it had all been worth the wait, Mick McCarthy included no doubt.
Instead, Rice’s defection has cast the darkest cloud yet over the whole eligibility debate, prompting some to argue that Irish football should pretty much wash its hands of all such borderline candidates and make it a mission instead to produce a reliable supply of home-grown talent.
But, of course, unlike the choice itself, the sourcing of players is not an either/or situation, hasn’t been for decades and, barring a major change in the Fifa rules, never will be.
When the so-called ‘granny rule’ works against us, there are some inclined to all too easily forget that, for the most part, it has been a very good friend to Irish football over the years, not least in that historic period of international breakthrough when Jack Charlton - who already had the luxury of selecting from an exceptional array of Irish-born personnel then playing at the highest club level — was also able to harness the additional talents of such vital performers as John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Andy Townsend.
For people like Kevin Kilbane, Gary Breen and, indeed, McCarthy himself, English-born but raised in families who ensured their blood ran green, eligibility was never an issue when it came to deciding on their international allegiance. And even some of the more borderline candidates who, had other opportunities arisen, might well have taken a different road, could never have been accused of lacking in whole-hearted commitment to the cause once they made the decision to don the shirt.
But you can certainly sympathise with McCarthy, as well as with those who have grown disenchanted with the whole sometimes unseemly process, when the waiting time for that decision drags on and on. Hanging on the telephone is not a position an international manager should find himself in, which is why it was no surprise to hear McCarthy suggesting
that making all senior caps binding, including friendly ones, would be a move in the right direction.
Yet, in almost the same breath, he was speaking — again with some frustration and, it appears, not much prospect of success — about his efforts to secure a meeting with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond, a player who has, like Declan Rice, already earned friendly honours – in Redmond’s case a single cap for England.
Which only goes to show that, while his patience might be running out, McCarthy is still obliged to recognise that he can’t afford to prematurely close any doors while the current international rules allow them to remain open.
Asked this week if he thought the chasing he has had to do is reflective of a broader change in the culture of football, McCarthy cast a fond eye back to his first stint as Ireland manager.
And the clock is against him. When he steps away from the Ireland post again, McCarthy isn’t going to be judged on what he has done to move on the eligibility debate or, as some might even prefer, help to render it redundant. Doubtless, of course, he would want to leave an improved squad of players for Stephen Kenny to inherit and one which, ideally, the new man could augment with a fresh influx of stellar home-grown talent.
But that’s a long-term ambition.
The FAI’s succession plan means that the short-term, over-arching objective for Mick McCarthy is qualification for the Euro 2020 finals, as simple and — he’ll hardly have been surprised to learn — as complicated as that.
And, to that end, whatever it takes, a manager’s gotta do what a manager’s gotta do.