As Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane pitch into battle tonight without the services of disenchanted Harry Arter, former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy is calling on him to mount a reconciliation bid.
McCarthy knows all about Keane’s sharp tongue and, without being privy to the row which has at least influenced Arter’s decision to pull out of the Nations League opener in Wales, he doesn’t want the Irish team suffering by his continued absence.
The 59-year-old senses his proposal carries a hefty dose of irony, given his team were without their inspirational captain for the last World Cup finals they reached, but he was swift to qualify his view by claiming he did everything in his power to generate a comeback route for Keane following his infamous outburst in Saipan.
“I think you have to try to get the best players on the pitch and Harry is a very good player,” insisted McCarthy, who managed his country between 1996-2002.
“Everybody is going to scream ‘hold on, what about the 2002 World Cup when you sent Roy Keane home?’ But I did invite him back; the offer was there.
“That was me realising that it was almost like the weight of the people that wanted him back. I had to offer that olive branch.
“I don’t want to be bringing my case up again because it was all dragged out again during in the summer when the World Cup came around. Blah, blah, blah, it was bullshit.
“However, I’m talking about having the best players with you and I don’t know what Harry’s argument was about.
“The point being, for all my strongest feelings back then, the olive branch was there. I prefer to mediate and make up to have a happy inclusive camp instead of a split one.
“Of course, 16 years later, that all sounds like nonsense. However, that was the case and you’ll find it’s been the case at all the clubs I’ve managed since.”
McCarthy’s fondness for Irish football remains apparent, even if he dismisses out of hand any suggestion that he’s got unfinished business in the Ireland job. His stint ended within four months of that World Cup appearance, with a section of fans inside Lansdowne Road chanting the name of the absent Keane at his final game against Switzerland.
The current generation of the Green Army had gotten used to hailing from the terraces rising star Declan Rice until his shock decision 10 days ago to pause for thought on his future.
Barnsley-born McCarthy sympathises with the West Ham youngster, given the massive decision facing him on whether to switch allegiance to his homeland of England.
The veteran boss, who insist he’s ready to resume his club managerial career five months after quitting Ipswich Town, believes the timing of England’s fortunes has contributed to Rice’s stalling.
“Declan is a good player — I tried to sign him on loan at Ipswich Town — and I understand why he’s taking his time,” said the former Ireland skipper who declared through his late father, Charlie.
“If Gareth Southgate has been in his earhole, saying he can come into the England team alongside the likes of John Stones and Harry Maguire, well then that’s a powerful argument for what he’s doing.
“Not many times in my lifetime have England captured the public’s imagination like they did in the summer. There’s a bond created by those players like what our Ireland team did by qualifying for three tournaments from 1988 to 1994.
“I don’t think Declan is hedging his bets. It’s more thinking that he doesn’t want to make a big mistake.
“I’d love to sit here and be arrogant by saying ‘Declan should nail his colours to the mast and all that’. But his parents are English.
“We should be trying to encourage him to come back, not let any outside influences take him elsewhere.”
- Mick McCarthy was announced yesterday as a panellist for Virgin Media Sport, making his debut tonight for the Nations League match between Germany and France which kicks off live on Virgin Media Three at 7.30pm