Out goes Shay Given, 36 years of age and 125 caps. In comes James McCarthy, 21 years of age, three caps.
The big wheel keeps on turning in football and in Belgrade this evening there will be a chance for the young Wigan midfielder to lay down a marker for an international career which all will hope proves to have even half the longevity of that of the departing goalkeeper.
That hope carries an extra layer of warm good wishes in the case of McCarthy who withdrew from theEuropean Championship finals so that he could spend time with his father Willie following the latter’s diagnosis with cancer.
“He’s still getting treatment and fingers crossed everything goes well,” was a son’s hopeful update on his dad’s health soon after the Irish squad touched down in the Serbian capital yesterday.
“It’s been a tough time obviously but he’s positive. At times, it was hard for me to get up the road (to Glasgow) to see him. Now and again, he’s been down (to Wigan) but it’s a bit hard for him because he is getting treatment. I try to get up to him as much as I can.
“Obviously, I wanted to see more of him so I went home during thesummer and spent it with him. It was good to get home but it was disappointing missing out on the Euros.”
Watching Ireland’s underwhelming performances from afar was “tough”, he conceded, adding, “but it was a very, very tough group. Three massive teams and Italy and Spain got to the final. But we’ve learned a lot from it and I’m sure we’ll kick on from that. A lot of people say it was a terrible campaign but the most important thing is that we learn from it and take positives from it, as much as we can.”
After a number of false beginnings and no little controversy to contend with, McCarthy is hoping tonight’s game in Belgrade kick-starts a real upward curve in his nascent Irish career. Particularly given that Keith Andrews’ suspension for the opening World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan next month offers a rare opportunity for those looking to move up the central midfield pecking order.
“It’s been stop start, stop start for myself with Ireland but hopefully I can get a run of games now and put it all together,” said McCarthy.
“But it’s going to be tough with the competition for places. This game is a big night for me and a few of the other boys to put a show on and show the gaffer that we want to try and play as much as we can. I want to make him have a big decision the next time, in who to leave out and who to leave in. But that’s going to be difficult. I need to be patient and see what the manager wants to do. I’ll give it my all and take it from there. It’s up to the gaffer to choose what he wants but I will be giving it my best shot.”
Just as he gave it his best shot for his club last season, his much-praised performances helping Wigan to beat the odds and stay in the Premier League.
“It’s massive, the Premier League is where you want to be, it’s one of the best leagues in the world,” McCarthy enthused yesterday.
“Come the end of the season we really kicked on as a squad and it was a massive achievement to stay up. We were on a terrible run but we knew if we worked hard behind the scenes it would show on the pitch and it certainly did. The last 10 games or so we really kicked on and went to the Emirates and got a result and got robbed at Chelsea and beat Man United. We’ve made it difficult for ourselves at times and this weekend (against Chelsea) is a massive test but hopefully we get off to a good start.”
But first he’s determined to make the most of only his second start for Ireland, here in Belgrade this evening. It might be no more than a pre-season friendly but the growing sense of a squad in transition has given the fixture an added significance.
“There are a lot of young players coming through but we still have a good few experienced players and we need them to help us out. We can’t just go all out with young lads. We still need them. But we’ll give it our best shot and then it’s down to what the boss thinks. I’m happy to play in whatever system he wants to play.”
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