In contrast to soundbites of rebuilding and transition by his predecessor Martin O’Neill, injected into the mission statement from Mick McCarthy is a reality check in pragmatism.
His one shot at succeeding during his second stint in the hotseat will revolve around getting the best team on the pitch, regardless of age, and that could mean an unlikely call for three outcasts of the previous regime.
Right now, David McGoldrick is second behind Callum Robinson as the leading goalscoring Irishman in the Championship while the absence of expectation seems to be galvanising Aiden McGeady, albeit operating at a tier beneath.
Then, there’s the curious case of Darron Gibson, gifted with talent but still absorbing the wounds of physical and mental scars in recent years.
Come March when McCarthy sits down with his assistants Terry Connor and Robbie Keane, the Ireland manager won’t be naming his squad with his successor Stephen Kenny in mind. Experience will be vital in navigating the tricky, yet manageable, waters towards a top-two finish in their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
During his first stint at the helm, Ireland’s former captain convinced Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton and Tony Cascarino to defer their retirement and both played their part in reaching a play-off for the 1998 World Cup.
Here we look at the three current contenders, assessing their respective prospects of an international resurrection.
v Mexico June 2017
McCarthy, ironically, had an influence on the English-born striker declaring for Ireland during their productive spell together at Ipswich Town. All began well in late 2014, the forward flourishing on his debut against USA only to miss out on a place in the final squad for the Euro 2016 finals. He was back in favour with Martin O’Neill early in the next campaign, making his competitive debut in the win away to Austria, but found himself on the margins within a year, furious at not making the match-day squad for the concluding group qualifier in Wales.
That was the end of McGoldrick in the O’Neill reign but McCarthy, who got 40 goals out of him at Ipswich, is a fan and watched him in action last week for Premier League promotion contenders Sheffield United.
“David looks fit and happy, which, in a large part, is down to living at home with his family in Nottingham,” said his former boss. “I know him as ‘Didsy’ and will keep him under consideration because he’s a talented player.
“Injuries haven’t been kind to him over the last couple of years but he was top-class in the two recent games I saw him in.”
v Denmark, Nov 2017
The Glaswegian still has a bit to do if he’s to avoid ending his international career on the nightmare of a Danish pasting in the World Cup play-off.
Nevertheless, the twinkle-toed winger has always thrived on confidence and his six-goal haul over the past seven games caused McCarthy to namecheck him unprompted after Sunday’s draw for the next year’s campaign.
“I had somebody watch Aiden play for Sunderland on the weekend and he’s flying.”
McGeady was talked about as a future star just when McCarthy was ending his first spell at the helm 17 years ago, yet his golden moments over 92 caps were minimal.
A goal in the 2011 win over Macedonia followed by his highpoint of a brilliant brace against Georgia remain the cameos that endure.
Ireland have enough Championship players without dipping into League One, although McGeady is a peculiar genius capable of producing match-winning moments.
While he’d need to sustain his trajectory, or even earn a transfer back up the ladder next month, to justify a call-up, he’s not out of the picture for one last hurrah. At least McCarthy, unlike many Irish fans, hasn’t run out of patience with him.
v Belarus, May 2016
Gibson has tumbled some distance from scoring in the 2011 Champions League semi-final but he’s relieved to still be even a footballer.
The descent of his career, from United to Everton and onto beleaguered Sunderland, was matched only by his off-field meltdown.
Two incidents of drink-driving led to his exit from the Black Cats midway through last season and he was lucky to avoid a prison term in May for the second, more serious, offence.
Ex-Sligo Rovers manager Paul Cook threw Gibson a lifeline in August by offering him a one-year deal and, apart from a needless red card against Preston North End, he’s fared well for Championship newcomers Wigan.
O’Neill’s main reservations about his fellow Derry native, and one of the reasons he was culled from the final squad for the last Euros, was his lack of fitness. But McCarthy may not need Gibson to be bustling box-to-box player; more so a sitting midfielder in the vein of Glenn Whelan — who has not called time on his international career either.