Not many options for Mick to effect change

Not many options for Mick to effect change
Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfil

His predecessor Martin O’Neill had to wait 10 months for his first competitive match, but half that duration is just as frustrating for Mick McCarthy when he’s had no Ireland fixtures at all.

Unlike O’Neill, who had seven friendlies to prepare for a trip to Georgia in September 2014, McCarthy hurtles headfirst into the real stuff.

Today, at noon, he announces an extended squad for the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers away against Gibraltar on May 23 and at home to Georgia three days later.

They are the first pair of eight games until November, at which point we’ll know if progress to a third Euro finals in a row is navigated through the direct route of a top-two finish in the group.

Otherwise, the complicated fallback of the Uefa Nations League play-offs mobilises in March 2020.

Although the era of O’Neill and Roy Keane is gone, the bulk of their squad will form the basis of McCarthy’s selection.

Don’t expect too much ‘out with the old, in with the new’, primarily because there’s an absence of ready-made replacements pushing for inclusion. McCarthy has one campaign to complete unfinished business from how his first tenure ended and doesn’t consider himself the change agent to overhaul an ageing team. That will be part of Stephen Kenny’s brief when he takes over next year.

It would be a stretch for Glenn Whelan and Daryl Murphy to make comebacks under the new regime, but the pragmatist in McCarthy saw him make contact with both, given they remain regular starters in the Championship.

A glance at the manager’s options show how well stocked he is in some departments and deficient in others. Séamus Coleman, Ireland’s best performer in the Premier League up until his broken leg in 2017, is now having his slot at right-back challenged by Matt Doherty. McCarthy only last week admitted he’s reluctant to accommodate both in his starting team, raising the possibility too of Cyrus Christie having to watch on as a squad player.

Central defence is another area in which he’s flush. Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark were mainly the first-choice partnership in recent years, though Kevin Long and Richard Keogh were afforded opportunities too. Still, John Egan has enjoyed a steady season at promotion challengers Sheffield United, while McCarthy could hand a first call-up to another Blade, Richard Stearman, his former centre-half at Wolves who declared some years ago without being drafted in.

James McCarthy will be among the 30-plus provisional panel unless he opts out over fitness concerns, but it is up front where the big calls will be made. Luton Town’s James Collins bagged his 20th goal of the season for League One leaders on Saturday and is a certainty to make the cut.

Despite McCarthy last week throwing cold water on the prospect of Padraig Amond stepping up from League Two club Newport County, the hero of their FA Cup heroics is understood to be in the mix.

It will be high noon for some personnel written off in recent years. Meanwhile, Andy Reid has been promoted to the post of Ireland U18 manager. The former Ireland midfielder was assisting Jim Crawford and steps into the vacancy left by his boss joining Stephen Kenny’s U21 backroom team.

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