International football doesn’t ravage the energy reserves as relentlessly as the domestic English game in which Mick McCarthy was so long immersed but the Republic of Ireland manager is clearly looking forward to the summer recess.
An intense period that included a camp in Portugal and games away to Denmark and at home to Gibraltar only ended for him yesterday at the University of Limerick with the launch of the Uefa Euro 2020 National Football Exhibition.
“I’m going to dinner with my wife after this,” he said at one point. “I’ve hardly seen her for three weeks.”
He was mumbling something similar to photographers over an hour later as the shadows lengthened on campus and you couldn’t say he hasn’t earned the down time.
McCarthy signs off with his Irish team in a good place, top of Group D with 10 points from a possible 12 and with the Danes and Switzerland looking to make up ground — though with games to spare — come September.
If McCarthy was nonplussed at the negativity surrounding his team’s mediocre performance against Gibraltar on Monday then he is realistic and honest enough to admit there remains some remedial work to be done.
He pointed out flaws in his team’s attacking efforts after the recent 2-0 win and he gave that familiar chuckle when asked if his team’s position at the summit of the table will make their rivals fear the Irish when the qualifiers resume.
“They will be looking at us on how we have played and not on the points we’ve got,” he explained. “Denmark will look at how we played against them. They are still the two best teams in the group, despite us being top.”
McCarthy has thumbed his nose at seedings and preconceived ideas before, of course. Most obviously in 2001 when his Irish side undid a star-studded Dutch team at Lansdowne Road in an epic World Cup qualifier.
He was loath to equate then and now when asked if edging two so-called superior teams here and now would be a greater achievement than his success in guiding Ireland past Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands in the race to Japan and South Korea.
It clearly wouldn’t suffer for the comparison. Some of Denmark’s play when Ireland met them in Copenhagen last Friday was described here as “different class” but he continues to aim high, as was apparent when asked if he would take a point when the Swiss visit Dublin in September.
“No, I want to win the game. It’s our home game. It’s generally the better place to try and win your games, so of course. Switzerland have the ability to come here and win, no question. As have Denmark. So it depends on how we play against them.
“We played well against Denmark and Georgia and if we play as well as we can, and we’ll have to, and work as hard as we can, let’s hope we win. If we end up with a draw out of all of them, the top teams, we’re still taking points off them.”
He explained on Monday night that his side’s struggles against an ultra-defensive Gibraltar will bear little resemblence to the task awaiting them against bigger and better opposition and yet the difficulty in finding the net can’t be ignored.
It was no surprise then that he found himself being asked yet again yesterday about Patrick Bamford’s intentions but McCarthy is a realist and his main priority seems to be working with the players he already has at his disposal.
“As long as we score enough to win a game, that’s alright by me. We are not conceding many.
“I can’t produce some magic from somewhere that’s going to make us score. Except that we keep practicing, keep doing it and keep coaching them about movement in the box.
“And I’ve got pretty good coaches for that in TC (Terry Connor) and Robbie without me getting involved.
“I could probably tell them how to keep it out of the net better than how to put it in the net. But I have people doing that and we’ll just keep working at it.”