In the run-up to big games, we easily pleased meeja types like nothing better than when rival managers and players have the fabled ‘pop’ at each other.
And, it’s better still when we don’t even have to dangle the bait.
Such was the case with Mick McCarthy at his press conference yesterday ahead of the showdown with the Swiss when, having declared that tonight at the Aviva his Irish team would be “playing our usual brand of football”, he added, without any prompting and with a wry grin, “even though some people find it unpleasant.”
Clearly, the gaffer had been alerted to quotes attributed in the previous 24 hours to Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer who had reportedly told his own media that “our opponents play a very unpleasant style of football, very hard”.
Expanding on his response, McCarthy said: “I thought we played quite pleasantly over the last four games, to be honest. My reaction to that is I hope he’s sat in the dressing room afterwards and he’s thinking it’s more unpleasant, and he doesn’t want to see us in October.”
To be fair to Sommer, there are grounds for believing his line got lost in translation but, at the same time, the general gist of what he was saying — that the Irish are a passionate, physical, spirited team etc etc — was hardly out of kilter with the view expressed by so many footballing visitors to Dublin down through the ages, which in essence is that pretty much all they expect to encounter along with the green shirt are the primary colours of bark, bollock, and bite.
As it happens, McCarthy does believe there’s more to Irish football than that — a view to which he is more than entitled given how well his team played at the 2002 World Cup.
But he’s also not about to disown the value of the base metal stuff either.
“I seem to think we’ve done alright when we’ve qualified for competitions,” he reflected. “But aggression is part of the game, part of the Premier League.
“The most aggressive teams in the Premier League are Manchester City and Liverpool, in terms of a high press. You try and get through that and they’ll take you down. That’s aggressive. The fact they’ve got 500 million pounds of full-backs in their teams helps, of course, but they are the most aggressive teams in the league, without a doubt.
“I’ve watched Switzerland, by the way, and there’s no shortage of aggression from them, how they work, how they press.
“At the end of it, I’m not really worried. If we win 1-0 and it’s ugly, not pleasant, I’ll be fine with it. You know that.”
To get that win, it would help if one of Mick McCarthy’s designated strikers could finally get off the mark, Ireland’s five goals in the campaign so far having come from midfielders Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane and Robbie Brady, defender Shane Duffy and, deflecting a David McGoldrick effort into his own net, Gibraltar’s Joseph Chipolina.
McGoldrick — who also cracked one against the post in that match — is expected to lead the line again tonight in what ought to be a familiar-looking Irish side, given both the results in Group D to date — albeit in what, the valuable draw in Copenhagen apart, has clearly been the easier half of the campaign — and the manager’s penchant for repeatedly emphasising the value of a settled team.
“Interestingly enough, they’ve got a squad that the one player who’s not there everyone wants to talk about, which is the norm,” he observed, referencing Switzerland’s missing X-factor.
“We’ve not got that. We’ve a settled approach to the game. We know what we’re about, know what we’ve got to do.
“There have been no upheavals, no upsets. We’ve a settled way of playing and a settled squad. So if we can take that settled feeling, that harmony that’s around the place at the minute — certainly within the squad — and play well, maybe we can get a good result.”
No-one, in either camp, is denying that Xherdan Shaqiri is a big miss for the Swiss, even if now, as in the past, their success has largely been based on their strength as a smooth, well-oiled collective.
McCarthy, in particular, needed no reminding yesterday that the visitors haven’t missed out on a major tournament since defeating Ireland in the European Championship qualifier in Dublin in 2002 which brought his first reign as Ireland manager to an end.
Asked if that one still rankles, he replied, not entirely convincingly: “No, not really. I went to Sunderland after that and had defeats there. I’ve parked that one, that’s gone. It’s only the fact that I’m now playing them again that it gets brought up. It would have been nice to have left unbeaten (at home) in qualifying games. But I didn’t. And I’ve had a lot of games since then.”
While tonight won’t be a make or break occasion for the manager, the stakes are still high.
Victory for Ireland would put them nine points clear of Switzerland, albeit the latter would retain two games in hand.
“We can do ourselves a favour and put ourselves in a really strong position…and we can certainly dent their hopes if we beat them,” was how McCarthy put it.
But he took issue with any suggestion that, in light of the calamitous way the Swiss dropped points against Denmark, it’s the visitors who are the team under real pressure this evening.
“No, we are under pressure to get a good result as it is our home game,” he said. “Whatever they feel among their fans and their association, that does not really affect me. We have to visit them again so I think there is no less pressure on us than there is on them. I’d have thought if they came here and took a point away they would be pretty pleased with that, thinking we have to go there in October.”