Giddiness. Excitement. Expectation.
Not normally the cocktail of emotions to be found swirling around the press room at the Aviva Stadium when it comes to the national football team in its time under Giovanni Trapattoni but all were very much in evidence until shortly before 3.30pm yesterday.
A first major championship in 10 years tends to do that to people.
News of the fight facing James McCarthy’s father, who has been diagnosed with cancer and is in ongoing treatment, punctured the mood and added an unexpected layer of perspective to the business of what is, after all, a mere sporting event.
McCarthy issued a statement which revealed: “I have made the very difficult decision to withdraw my name from selection from the Euro 2012 squad following the diagnosis of my father with cancer and an ongoing requirement for treatment. I have discussed this with the manager. He was very understanding and I thank him sincerely for that.”
Trapattoni has experienced similar circumstances managing at club level and he caught the tone just right here even if there was some confusion as to whether he said McCarthy would have made the squad or not had he been available for the European Championships.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said, nodding his head as the question was put to him regarding McCarthy’s hypothetical participation but the Italian answers most queries in that fashion and even a subsequent confab with the FAI’s communication department failed to nail down a definite answer.
It was a superfluous issue anyway given the gravity of the statement issued by McCarthy, one which brought to an end a week of feverish speculation after Trapattoni had first mentioned a player being unavailable next month due to personal issues.
What wasn’t up for debate was the manager’s appraisal of McCarthy whose short Ireland career has so far taken one step forward followed by two or three back but who can seemingly expect to play a more central role in the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“He prefers to stay at home,” said Trapattoni. “He said he is not ready and I have to respect his decision. It is difficult to try and convince him (otherwise). He is 21 and this is his parents. I have to respect this. He will be with us in the next campaign.
“We have two or three senior midfielders but he is young. He is strong and he has quality and he can grow this quality.
“Sometimes when we watch him on the pitch he indicates where the others can pass and I say to him ‘James, you must call for the ball because you have the quality’. He looks before he receives. He is like the young reporter with the senior reporter. Many young players are like this.
“With more experience and personality he can shoot more maybe from 25-30 (yards) out rather than pass all the time. I am sure he can grow. I told him he was in our plans for the future and he said ‘thank you for this’.”
In reality, for all his undoubted talents and many supporters both here and across the water, McCarthy was always one of those considered to be borderline for the squad of 23, if only because of the fact that he hasn’t played for Ireland in 14 months. In three caps — earned against Brazil, Uruguay and Macedonia — he has featured for a grand total of 90 minutes and, though it will be far down his list of priorities right now, his inability to progress his international career must be a source of frustration. His relationship with Trapattoni has been under the microscope since his controversial absence for the Carling Cup tie against Northern Ireland last summer but he thanked the Ireland manager for his “understanding” in yesterday’s statement.
McCarthy, who featured for Wigan Athletic in their crucial Premier League game away to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park last night, also revealed that opting out of the European Championships has been a “very difficult decision”.
“I take this opportunity to re-affirm my complete commitment to playing for the Republic of Ireland,” said the Glasgow-born midfielder.
“It is a huge honour and source of great pride for me and my family. Despite not being present, I would like to wish the manage and my teammates every success in the tournament and hope that Irish fans can understand the reason for my decision at this difficult time.”
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