McCarthy sees the funny side as Ireland deliver

Damien Duff and Ronnie Whelan may have found fault with the tennis balls served up in protest against John Delaney at the Aviva Stadium, but Mick McCarthy could see the funny side after a performance and result that sets Ireland up nicely in Group D.

McCarthy sees the funny side as Ireland deliver

Damien Duff and Ronnie Whelan may have found fault with the tennis balls served up in protest against John Delaney at the Aviva Stadium, but Mick McCarthy could see the funny side after a performance and result that sets Ireland up nicely in Group D.

The criticisms of the fans gesture, made by the two former players on TV on Tuesday evening, didn't match the mood music inside the Ballsbridge venue and the Irish manager struck a more conciliatory tone when addressing an action which he had spoken about with some concern prior to kick-off.

“Apparently Paddy Power were taking odds on me getting hit on the head with one, so I turned around ready to head one back,” said McCarthy of the 33rd-minute protest, mostly on the part of the singing section in the stadium''s South Stand. He could afford to be jocular.

His Ireland team was dreadful in their group opener away to Gibraltar last Saturday. This was a much improved effort, especially a first-half full of purpose and poise and no little pace, and Georgia struggled to keep up.

Conor Hourihane's 33rd-minute strike was the minimum the hosts deserved for such an enterprising half-an-hour although there was the familiar sight of an Irish team leaning back on the ropes by the end after so much time spent on the front foot.

The sense of tension as Georgia pushed forward late on was palpable, the decision by winger James McClean to fire over a speculative injury-time cross when on the break prompting groans and howls from a stadium imploring the Derryman to run the ball dead instead.

Not the first time Ireland have made it so hard on themselves but the combination of another three points that take them top of the group at this early stage, and some of the football they produced, is more than enough for now after the lows of 2018 under Martin O'Neill.

“I said on Saturday that it's lovely if you can produce both,” said McCarthy. “I thought we could have had two or three goals so it is nice. If we'd nicked one from a free-kick and sat back people wouldn't have enjoyed it as much and wouldn't have celebrated as much.

“Even James McClean crossing that ball at the end: I said I'd kill him if he does that again but I didn't need to tell him. He knew already. He was excellent tonight, by the way.”

McClean was just one of many praised lavishly by his manager. David McGoldrick was love-bombed and Seamus Coleman described as “different class”. Glenn Whelan's renaissance as a thirtysomething dynamo was labelled “remarkable” and there were plaudits for Darren Randolph and Conor Hourihane.

There are questions outstanding for another day. Matt Doherty's demotion to the bench was a major pre-match talking point and, while he came off the bench, McCarthy suggested that he will not play in front of Coleman again.

But this was clearly a collective step in the right direction. Georgian coach Vladimir Weiss added to the sense that this was an Irish performance pitched at a level far above anything seen in the latter stages of O'Neill's time in charge when he spoke of the “extremely high tempo” at which the game was played in that opening half-hour.

Gone was the plodding, conservative and nervous approach seen throughout 2018 and the visiting coach touched on how he had to take a chisel to his formation in response, axing the 4-4-2 to mirror and combat the rampant Irish version of 4-3-3.

It's not often that we have seen opposing coaches shifting their structures to deal with an Irish team that is routinely described in prehistoric tactical terms. Here was Weiss talking about tempo and formations rather than Irish 'fight' and long balls.

Quite the shift.

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