James McCarthy primed for central role again with Ireland

James McCarthy primed for central role again with Ireland
Republic of Ireland's James McCarthy during squad training in 2017

It's almost four years since James McCarthy last wore an Ireland jersey, injuries have played havoc with his career just as he should have been in his prime and his 30th birthday is less than three months around the corner.

Yesterday's man for so long, Stephen Kenny believes his best days could be ahead of him.

“I know James hasn't played [for Ireland] since 2016 and there were a couple of tough years there for him with injuries and it can be mentally tough when that happens. He is someone who is extremely talented,” said Kenny on Monday afternoon.

“He has an exceptional range of passing. I don't think we have utilised him in his best position a lot. We haven't utilised his talent overall and injuries have prevented him becoming sort of regarded as the best midfield player of the generation which, in my mind, he is.

“He's only 29 now so even some of his best performances might be ahead of him if he can stay fit. If we can get him facing the goal and get the ball to him in midfield with the speed that we've got, attacking options and the speed, it could be a good combination.”

McCarthy played just seven times in a two-season spell at the end of his time with Everton but he managed 35 appearances with Palace last term and Kenny has singled him out as a man who can fill the central role for the Republic in a midfield three.

His thought process is simple: give McCarthy the space to receive the ball in that area and make ample use of his passing abilities. He knows the headlines that 'best of his generation' could stoke and clearly doesn't want that bigged up but his plans for the former Wigan Athletic man are clear.

“There is more to come from James,” he predicted.

McCarthy wasn't the only familiar face to get an invite back to the party. Harry Arter's all-out style with Fulham last season caught Kenny's eye. Not just that but the midfielder's ability to make things happen with either foot.

“It's interesting, you know, when you watch him. If he takes a free-kick wide he'll take it with his right foot but the goals he scored from distance are with his left. It is just unusual. He is a very competitive player.

“He was an attacking player with Bournemouth but he had a sort of holding role with Fulham and he is a very competitive player and it's another opportunity for him. Not easy. There are other players in that position but certainly I feel he has had a good contribution at Fulham this year.”

As with all squads, there were winners and losers.

Michael Obafemi didn't make the cut this time and appeared to tweet his displeasure with that soon after the announcement. He has time on his side. Maybe Sean Maguire too, another absentee. Glenn Whelan not so much. He is 36 and near the end of the road.

Have we seen the last of him in green?

“To be fair to Glenn, he was named by the Soccer Writers as being in the top three at international level last year,” said Kenny. “He has 92 caps and no matter what manager there has been they’ve all picked him.

“That’s a tremendous achievement. To get that amount of caps you have to earn every one. We’re not in a position where we can close the door on anyone. I wouldn’t write anyone off, certainly not Glenn.”

There are no League of Ireland players in the squad and the senior manager confirmed that this was purely a footballing decision and not one connected to any perceived concerns about domestic players having to quarantine for longer periods or miss club games.

Shamrock Rover's Jack Byrne is on standby and will do so with more praise from Kenny ringing in his ears. There were words of praise too for his teammate Graham Burke and for Dundalk's Michael Duffy.

“Ultimately we are planning also for Slovakia and we have to look at how we will play against Slovakia [in the Euro 2020 playoff] and the characteristics of the players we need for that game. We have to look at that. These are marginal decisions and ones that are not made easily.”

Kenny also confirmed that the FAI had received a quarantine exemption for their players and other members of the travelling party to Sofia – Bulgaria is not on the green list - next month. Notification came through that this was the case last Friday.

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