McCarthy: Let’s not compare Connolly to Robbie just yet

It didn’t take long at Mick McCarthy’s pre-match press conference for the visitors present to learn that Aaron Connolly’s fever had already reached Tbilisi.

McCarthy: Let’s not compare Connolly to Robbie just yet

It didn’t take long at Mick McCarthy’s pre-match press conference for the visitors present to learn that Aaron Connolly fever had already reached Tbilisi.

The first question from a local journalist was whether the Ireland manager felt confident his team could claim three points. The second was whether the Brighton bright ’un would make his debut this afternoon.

McCarthy offered a response to the first query in which his regard for the hosts was clearly not just rooted in simple diplomacy. “Please understand, we respect Georgia, as they are a very good team,” he said.

As for the second question, with translation requirements prolonging the exchange, McCarthy found a way to side-step a head-on response.

But, of course, it wasn’t about to go away. Later, someone quoted Richard Dunne as having said that the 19-year-old Galwegian reminded him, in terms of his confident character, of a young Robbie Keane. Nothing could have been better designed to raise McCarthy’s hackles.

“If you don’t mind, I will wait and see him have a few games and see how he does before I start comparing him to Robbie Keane in any shape or form,” came the sharp response. “I think we should just let him make his debut when he does and let’s see how he does. I would love to be comparing him to Robbie at some stage, but I’m not going to start that now.

“He’s in the squad, so he’s got a chance. I did have a concern about James (McClean), he did have a stiff back at the beginning of the week, but he’s recovering, he’s no problem, he’s training as well as he always has. Aaron can play on the left, that’s where I first really saw him.

He was devastating playing from that position for the 21s. But he plays up front in a two with Brighton so he’s an option there as well. He’s been very good, he hasn’t looked out of place in training.

For all that, there was a strong enough hint that, while Connolly should at least see action off the bench, the man McCarthy will turn to first in the search for goals in the absence of David McGoldrick is Luton’s James Collins.

The striker might only have 30 minutes of friendly international football under his belt but, as the manager was quick to point out, that’s a half an hour more than rising star Connolly has at senior level — and the comparative oldster at 28 crowned his debut against Bulgaria with a goal to boot.

“It’s interesting how people are pushing for Aaron Connolly to make a start and he hasn’t had any international football at all and hasn’t been in the squad up until now,” McCarthy observed, before explaining why he would not be fearful of throwing Collins in at the deep end.

“Why would I not? Because I trust the players when they come in. It’s not only just seeing him for the half an hour of international football — where I thought he was excellent, actually — it’s when he comes and trains with the lads and he doesn’t look out of place. He’s fitted in and he looks every bit the international player with us.

“He’s been around a long time (at club level) and he’s scored wherever he’s been, James. And I think to get in the squad now shows a huge amount of dedication, hard work and mental strength, to keep going and get his cap and his first goal, which was brilliant for him. No, if I decide to pick him, I’ve no worries about him.”

Hints aside, McCarthy obviously wasn’t about to reveal his line-up, but he did make an exception to confirm that one “fit-to-play” Derryman has recovered from injury more quickly than expected to make the cut.

“If you’re looking for one starter, then Shane Duffy — he’s just been outstanding,” said the manager. “I’d be bonkers to leave him out.”

About the left-back berth left vacant by the suspended Enda Stevens, he was giving much less away, though it will be a surprise if Matt Doherty doesn’t get the nod.

“I’ve been impressed with Derrick Williams coming in, he’s trained exceptionally well,” he said. “But Matt Doherty can play in either full-back position. He did it for a couple of years for Wolves very successfully, so it’s nice to have a few options.”

McCarthy feels that the toasty Indian summer currently being enjoyed by the citizens of Tbilisi will have a bearing on how Ireland go about their business this afternoon.

“Georgia are a very possession-based, technical team,” he noted. “They always try to get on the ball, they try to dominate you and pen you back, which I’ve seen them do. We have to try and make sure they don’t.

"We need to try to keep it and be possession-based ourselves here because it might be 25C when we’re playing as well. That might have an effect, I’m sure it will. The guys are back playing in 10C on a Saturday now and will be again on Tuesday night (in Geneva).

“We are going to have to be equally good with the ball and without it. If they get good possession — which they try to do from throw-ins, goal kicks and restarts — they make you work, they shift you, they pass it quickly and slickly. So we have to do the same.

“But we will be playing the same way, we won’t be changing,” he concluded. “We are coming to try and win it, but if we take a point away, we’ll have to be happy with it.”

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