Mick McCarthy has praised the professionalism of the support the FAI provides to his staff and team, saying the difference between now and when he finished his first stint as Ireland manager 17 years ago is like “night and day”.
While there is no mention of the on-going crisis at the Association in an interview conducted by FAI TV, McCarthy is asked if he thinks it’s “a very different FAI since 2002”.
The manager replies: “Oh, sure. When I left in 2002 we were on the back of I’d say a successful World Cup but things were different in terms of where we trained and where we stayed. Lansdowne Road I loved but the Aviva Stadium knocks it into a cocked hat in terms of an arena, it’s just fabulous.
“Abbotstown, the training ground, all the facilities we have, the way we travel and where we stay, I guess the professionalism in how we prepare and what’s now in the FAI – (it’s) night and day, completely different to 2002.”
Looking ahead to preparations for next month’s Euro 2020 games against Denmark and Gibraltar, McCarthy says he is encouraged by the commitment of his players in wanting to take part in the training camp in Portugal ahead of those games.
“I was delighted that Sheffield United won promotion as it means the four players from there can come,” he says.
“There’s a bit of a dilemma of who is going to be there (in Portugal) and who is going to be in the Play-Off Final. I’ve spoken to the lads who are taking part in the semi-finals and, not to put a negative on it, I said, ‘if you lose are you happy to come to Portugal and be selected’ and every single one them said ‘absolutely’.
“Winning the two games against Gibraltar and Georgia put us top of the group and has meant players are thinking ‘you know what, we may have a chance here, we may be at Euro 2020’. Everyone wants to be involved in that and that’s great for all of us.”
Assessing the challenge presented to Ireland by the qualifying group, he observes: “The Swiss and the Danes are the two best teams in the group but I seem to remember upsetting the applecart before. Yugoslavia and Croatia in our group and we should have qualified then. Holland and Portugal in the group and no-one gave us a chance and we ended up playing in the World Cup.”
McCarthy also insists that Ireland’s unhappy recent memories of coming up against Denmark will have no bearing on the current campaign.
“Nothing that went on up until me coming in on December Ist really matters to me,” he says.
“Things have gone well so far but, don’t get me wrong, we’ll have tougher games to come than the games we’ve had. Denmark on the 7th of June, that’s the excitement of it, I’m looking forward to it.
“But whatever the result might be there, we’ve got to come back and beat Gibraltar here. That’s all-important. But, first of all, we’ve got to try and get something in Denmark and if we play like we did against Georgia, with that commitment and that quality, who knows?”
In the course of a lengthy interview, McCarthy also reveals that he believes Marco Bielsa was right to allow Aston Villa to score in their controversial 1-1 draw with Leeds United but wonders just how understanding people would be if the same decision was taken in the final minutes of a play-off decider.