While Mick McCarthy is always prepared to cut a little slack for a couple of his more experienced and established names, the manager has never sought to minimise the weight he attaches to the general requirement that, in order to play for their country, his players really need to be playing for their clubs.
So even though he has lost a few familiar faces to injury — the likes of Seanie Maguire, Robbie Brady and Harry Arter— recent developments meant McCarthy was yesterday able to declare himself broadly satisfied with the options available to him as the squad began their build-up in Abbotstown to Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland at the Aviva Stadium.
“They all got in the teams over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Glenn (Whelan) is remarkable, he’s had two games (for Hearts), against Celtic and on Saturday. That’s him going from not kicking a ball. But he has played for the last 10 years without any injuries or breaks or long-term problems.
“Jeff Hendrick has played and has had no injuries long-term. Conor (Hourihane) has too — all the lads that were in the team that I was really concerned about have gone and played.
“I am happy with the lads who have come into the squad. Josh Cullen has done really well, I’m pleased with him. He’s been excellent. And Charlton have started fabulously as well. The lads that are here are all fit and raring to go, and want to play.”
With Luton Town’s James Collins called-up as a replacement for Maguire — who is seeing an eye specialist this week after being hit in the face by the ball while training with Preston — Shane Long has made the headlines as the most high-profile player to miss out.
But while McCarthy understands the media angle, he insists the Southampton striker’s absence is entirely logical.
“It’s always about someone who is not in the squad,” he said with mild exasperation. “Shane is not playing. I spoke to Shane the other day and he said he played pre-season games and I said, ‘I know’. I remember playing pre-season games as well. He hasn’t played really since the end of last season (although) he came on the other night.
“James Collins, to be fair to him, got promoted last year and is coming in with momentum. He has taken to the Championship, he is scoring goals in the Championship and so (the decision) is just based on playing, someone who is scoring goals and playing.”
And it’s a decision which, the manager was at pains to stress, should not be interpreted as signalling the end of the international road for Long who, at the age of 32, has amassed 82 caps for his country.
“It would be sort of remiss of anyone to suggest that,” said McCarthy. “If you look at it logically you will come to the same conclusion as me as to who should be in the squad.
“Sean Maguire was in the squad in front of him as he’s been playing and scoring. Shane has had some long term injuries. He was out for a bit of time and I know he got back in at the end of last season but he has not had game time. I spoke to him the other day and if he gets playing, there will be other games so I hope he gets fit and back in.”
Meanwhile, the luckless Maguire’s former Preston colleague Callum Robinson must have fairly bounced into camp on the back of opening his Premier League goal account for Sheffield United in their 2-2 draw away to Chelsea on Saturday.
Not that McCarthy wasn’t already a fan.
“I thought he was one of the best players against Gibraltar,” he said. “And go back a game to when he came on against Denmark, he had a positive effect. I watched him in the first game of the season against Bournemouth and he started well. He has scored his goal now and that will give him confidence.”
McCarthy admitted he was taken aback by Xherdan Shaqiri’s decision to withdraw from international service, robbing Switzerland of the kind of player who can always conjure a surprise on the pitch.
“When you’re planning and analysing a team performance, you can prepare to play whoever will replace him a bit better, because he can do things off the cuff,” McCarthy observed.
“I wouldn’t underestimate the other players who step in for him. But he can produce moments of magic in games.”
Ireland are now at the mid-point of the qualifying campaign, with McCarthy needing no telling that the second half will be tougher than the first.
“I look at it as we’ve got the points we had to get to give us half a chance of qualifying,” he said.
“The Denmark point was a real bonus. We had to get nine from the other three games and we did. I think the others will get nine from those games, GIbraltar home and away and Georgia at home. They were essential points and we’ve got the tougher games to come. The Swiss are a good side, very possession-based with technical players who work hard. They’ve been one of the top teams in Europe for a long while.”
But the manager is planning a hot welcome for them at the Aviva, one that he hopes will galvanise the home support.
“I don’t doubt the atmosphere will be good. And then it’s up to us. If people turn up, people want to see us play well and play aggressively and have chances. Not be sat back. Try and play progressive and attacking football.”