The Tartan Army have no right to boo Republic of Ireland international James McCarthy on Friday night, according to his former Hamilton team-mate Alex Neil.
McCarthy will return to the land of his birth with Martin O’Neill’s squad this week as they take on Scotland in a crucial European Championship qualifier at Celtic Park.
The Group D clash could pit McCarthy against former Accies colleague James McArthur – and spark an emotional tug-of-war in the corridors at New Douglas Park where the midfield duo were both given their footballing education.
Accies player-manager Neil says he will be backing Scotland’s McArthur to come out on top in the next leg of the race to Euro 2016.
But he has shot down any suggestion that the home support will have the right to shower Everton’s 23-year-old McCarthy with stick.
Like Goodison team-mate and former Celtic star Aiden McGeady, McCarthy turned his back on the Dark Blues to pledge his international future to the Boys in Green.
Overlooked by Scotland youth selectors, the Toffees midfielder took up the Republic’s offer to join their Under-16s squad. By the time the Scottish Football Association got round to calling-up the then talented Hamilton youngster, his mind was made up to stay with Ireland, who he is eligible to represent through his late grandfather Paddy Coyle.
Scotland boss Gordon Strachan suggested last week that both McCarthy and McGeady could be treated like pantomime villains by the Scotland crowd, while former Dark Blues defender Gordon McQueen was quoted in several newspapers today claiming the players “deserved” to get a “horrible reaction” for rejecting their nation of birth.
But Neil – who helped guide McCarthy into the Hamilton team – said: “I’d like to think James won’t get any reaction really and that the fans will just let the kid go and play his football.
“At the end of the day, he didn’t get picked for Scotland and Ireland did. So it’s not his fault. When you have only got one option, it’s pretty easy to take that option. It’s not as if Scotland came calling.
“He’s a terrific footballer and I don’t think any of that should have a part to play.”
McCarthy was given his first-team introduction at Hamilton when he was just 15. Alongside McArthur, the pair helped the Lanarkshire outfit reach the Scottish Premiership before both being plucked down south by Wigan.
They went on to win FA Cup winners’ medals with the Latics before Roberto Martinez took McCarthy with him to Everton and McArthur sealed his own switch to Crystal Palace.
The best friends have already come up against each other this year in the Barclays Premier League – a 3-2 win for the Eagles at Goodison six weeks ago - but now they could go head to head on the international stage.
“To see two young lads who came through the system here go on and play at the top level of international football for their countries will make everybody extremely proud at this club,” added Neil.
“Obviously we are Scottish so we will be supporting Scotland, but I want James McCarthy to have a terrific game.
“It will be really interesting to see how the two of them get on against each other. But knowing the two of them, they are fierce competitors and they will be looking to do well for their own country.
“But I’m Scottish, so I know which one I will be cheering for.”