A gracious Mick McCarthy has said that while it is “hugely disappointing” for him not to get the chance to see if he could lead Ireland to the European Championships next summer, in the “extraordinary circumstances” brought about by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic he “fully supports” the decision to bring forward the FAI succession plan which now sees Stephen Kenny take over as Ireland manager.
“I said in December 2018 when I took the job that I’d be leaving on July 31, 2020, come what may and that’s still the case, albeit of course it’s been brought forward because of what’s happening worldwide,” he said.
However, the fact that it means he cannot now finish a job he began is “hugely disappointing”, he admitted.
“But I fully understand it as well,” he said. “It’s disappointing I can’t finish it off but I think we’ve had a really good campaign. We were almost there in November when we played Denmark but now the play-offs have been pushed back and I fully understand it.
“Stephen’s been contracted to take over in August and good luck to him, he’ll get a chance now to qualify.”
The FAI’s decision to move quickly on the issue, he said, brings clarity.
“It’s an important decision because it’s only fair that Stephen gets his chance on August Ist. It’s kind of bittersweet but I fully support it.”
McCarthy said he already spoken to some of his staff – what he called “the nearest and dearest” - like Terry Connor, Robbie Keane and Alan Kelly - and intends to get around to speaking to the rest of the backroom team and players.
McCarthy also paid tribute to the Irish fans, saying that “if there was a re-connection needed we certainly got one” especially, he felt, as performances “gradually got better” over the course of the qualifying campaign. “We lost one out of ten, and that was Switzerland away and, as we’ve seen, they were the best team in the group.”
Summing up his second coming as Ireland manager, McCarthy told FAI TV:
“It’s been brilliant, I’ve loved being back, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honour to do the job again. And I think I’m leaving Stephen with a healthy balance, to be quite honest.”
McCarthy affirmed his determination to return to football – “I’m back on the market and now I can look for a job with impunity,” he smiled – and added that he was also looking forward to reverting to being an Ireland fan.
“I do, of course. I said yesterday to Roy (Barrett, FAI Chairman), that the one thing I would certainly ask for when leaving is a couple of tickets to next year’s Euros, when we’ve qualified, and I can come back and watch and support with all the rest of the fans who – let me please give them a special mention – have been wonderful towards me, the staff and the players from day one.
“I know we didn’t win the game (against Denmark) but we left everyone on a high in November looking forward to these play-offs with the great performance the lads produced. So if they reproduce that in the play-offs I might get my two tickets for next summer.”