Mick’s kicks so hard to beat

Mick’s kicks so hard to beat
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy greets James McClean after the Euro 2020 qualifying clash with Switzerland at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Ryan Byrne.

As late equalisers go, it obviously wasn’t quite up there with Ibaraki, that mind-blowing moment in stoppage time against Germany in the 2002 World Cup, when Robbie Keane fastened onto Niall Quinn’s header and crashed the ball via Oliver Kahn and the inside of the post to the back of the net.

“Look at these scenes,” hollered Motty on the Beeb, “just look at these scenes”, as the Irish players and subs piled on top of Keane, the supporters went berserk and, best of all, the cameras tracked Mick McCarthy’s almost slow-motion reaction to the developing drama: from stern expression and arms folded across his chest to open-mouthed anticipation to face-splitting grin and, finally, an eruption into leaping, fist-pumping celebration.

So, no, the Aviva on Thursday was hardly on a par with that but, at least in one respect, there was a distinct echo, as David McGoldrick’s 85th-minute header refashioned the night’s almost completed narrative - which, let’s be honest, would not have been a flattering one for Ireland - and, amid a great explosion of release and relief in the ground, made a draw feel almost as good as a win.

“Absolutely, yes it did,” says McCarthy, “and it was in Denmark as well. And the crowd’s reaction to it was just amazing. I thought that they were great having gone 1-0 down. There was a bit of a lull and then they started to sing and got behind us. That helps - but I loved the noise after the goal, it was great.”

So the feel-good factor remains intact for McCarthy’s Ireland but, given that this was a game in which the home side were forced to play second fiddle to slick-passing opponents for long spells, it hardly engendered a feel-better mood about the remaining three games in the campaign, which will only see the pressure ramp up inexorably as Ireland go away to Georgia and Switzerland next month before they finish up at home to Denmark in November.

Not that McCarthy is willing to get ahead of himself, good-humouredly declining to put a figure on the number of points he’s targeting from the testing run-in.

“Do you really think I’m going to answer that question?” he parries.

I’ll just go to Georgia and try to win the game. If we do, then there are two games to go. I’ll just keep picking them off. I’m not going to make any predictions or answer a question of that ilk so please forgive me.

He does, however, clarify how he expects his team to try to go about things in the return game against the Swiss, expanding on his remark at his post-match press conference on Thursday night that it would be the sort of testing challenge which might require ‘circling the wagons’.

“That doesn’t mean to say we’re just going to go out there and sit in our half, not a chance. I think if we did that we would get picked off, so we’re not going to do that. We got picked off on Thursday just because they are a very good side. I think possibly the athleticism of them against us not (having some players) playing was a factor but we did catch them on the break and, who knows, if we can nick it off them we will score.”

To which end, a clear positive from Thursday was David McGoldrick opening his international goal account to cap a characteristic performance of guile and guts which, as his deserved ovation when he was subbed confirmed, has only further enshrined his status as a new-found favourite with the faithful. But the Sheffield United striker has no bigger fan than his former club and now international manager.

“Didzy has been selfless in his performances,” says McCarthy. “When he was at Ipswich with us, he used to come over and not get many games and that’s other people’s choices. I’ve known him. I signed him fromNottingham Forest and he’s just been brilliant for me. It’s an easy one for me and I love the bones of him, he’s a great kid.”

At the other end of the caps honour roll, there’s the age-defying Glenn Whelan, who was still going strong enough in the dying moments against the Swiss to come spectacularly close to adding to his two goals in 88 appearances for his country.

“He brings experience, real quality as well, quality in that position,” McCarthy enthuses. “Does he open teams up with wonderful, raking passes? Well, sometimes, but that’s not particularly his job. He sits there and does that dirty stuff which is vital in the modern game, certainly. He protects his centre backs and just keeps it ticking over. It would have been lovely if he had scored.”

And what of James McClean who, lung-busting to the end, acted as, first, retriever and then supplier, for McGoldrick’s goal?

“Awesome,” says McCarthy. “Whatever he is drinking I’m going to have a pint of it. I don’t think he drinks anyway...”

No, his tipple of choice is a pot of tea, apparently.

“We’ll I’m not going to have a pot of tea, I’ll renege on that and have it for breakfast. He’s amazing, just something else.”

But it was the all-round collective resilience of his team, coming back against superior opposition for the second time in the campaign, which makes McCarthy feel that he is on the right track.

I think that it just lets me know that between myself and all the other staff that we are doing our jobs properly. That the players are getting the right information and that they believe that they are getting coaching and being trusted to play.

"That’s just not here but anywhere I have ever been. I don’t think that anybody has been that glad to see the back of me, to be honest.”

And with the top three teams in Group D having all shared points in their head to heads to date, what is going to take for Ireland to get the edge on the others?

“I guess that the simple answer is to score goals, isn’t it? That’s the hardest bloody thing on the pitch, unfortunately. We went close on Thursday night and we had our chances. To remain as tough and as belligerent and as hard to beat is going to prove vital.”

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