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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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A draw will do just fine as qualifying campaign gets serious against Denmark

Mick McCarthy faces the biggest test of his second Irish reign in Copenhagen tonight.

Gavin Cooney reports from Copenhagen 

IN THE COUNTRY of the prince who couldn’t figure out who he truly was, Mick McCarthy has so such afflictions.

“I just come in and be me”, said McCarthy earlier this week when asked how he has improved Ireland.

Mick McCarthy Mick McCarthy at the Parken Stadium. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The most notable difference between this reign and the last is McCarthy’s positivity in public.

He has consistently showered his players with praise; the few times he has been short with the media thus far is whenever the ‘poorer squad of players available to you than the last time’ question has been dangled before him.

There are no more laments on the lack of Premier League players or the ageing of Robbie Keane – he has reframed everything.

Hence his players’ qualities have been talked up and the quality of the Championship compared favourably to the lower half of the Premier League .

All of this has been reflected on the pitch – the win over Georgia was notable for its positive approach, with the image of Jeff Hendrick sprinting beyond the Irish striker in anticipation of a knock-down arriving at us like a relic from an ancient, forgotten age.

McCarthy and the squad have spoken all week of their intention to maintain this approach in Copenhagen tonight.

That said, it has been balanced by the manager’s blunt admission that if he were offered a point during the week, he would have tossed away his boarding pass to grab it.

The balance McCarthy is trying to strike publicly is that his side would take a point at the end of the game but they won’t kick-off with only it in mind; that it won’t be like last November in Aarhus, in which Ireland had 24% of the ball, zero corners, three shots and – for the first time in 18 games- none on target.

So, can Mick’s positivity endure a trip to our own merchants of gloom, Denmark? 

Usually, when Ireland face a behemoth of the world game, we begin the process of making a case against the opposition, and of talking ourselves into beating them. This was at its best during Euro 2012, before which we humbly accepted we might lose to Spain given we would beat Croatia and then play-off with Italy for the quarter-finals.

Christian Eriksen Christian Eriksen trains at the Parken Stadium ahead of another clash with Ireland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With Denmark, it’s different. Initially, we didn’t have to talk ourselves into beating them at all – we had ‘won the draw’ in landing them in the World Cup play-off. Then we were battered and left nursing the folly of our hope.

The 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat still lingers as a kind of half-scrubbed nightclub stamp on our arm, an ungainly reminder of a night that began happily only to descend to a haze of regret, shame, and poor decisions.

The Nations League draws that followed were the miserable dry wretches of the hangover.

Seamus Coleman used his pre-game press conference to play down the importance we have attached to the Danes, saying that “I just don’t see the big deal about this game, we are playing for our country tomorrow and we will give our all.”

Christian Eriksen has dominated the build-up, and his Wednesday bombshell that he is set to leave Tottenham dominated the news cycle here and pushed Ireland firmly down the agenda.

The Danish management team expect he won’t be affected by either that speculation or his Champions League final disappointment, and the fact he will have shaken off ring-rust in that game may work to his advantage.

This may be a disadvantage for Ireland, given Darren Randolph, Enda Stevens, and David McGoldrick are all likely to start having last played a game more than a month ago.

McCarthy has admitted that may be an issue tonight, but has been unwilling to indulge the idea that Ireland can profit from their familiarity with their opponents. More relevant, he says, is the Danes’ familiarity with themselves.

Denmark are still under the instruction of Age Hareide, and play in largely the same way. Eriksen plays as a number 10, with the midfield steel provided by Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney and Ajax’s Lasse Schone.

In spite of Eriksen’s craft, their style is direct, with striker Nicolai Jorgensen used as a kind of open-play Shane Duffy while Yussuf Poulsen offers a similar option cutting in from the right-hand side.

Left-winger Pione Sisto is absent, so Martin Brathwaite – once of Middlesbrough – will likely offer Denmark pace on the left-wing.

Ultimately, Ireland’s task will probably come down to how they deal with Eriksen. The man who will likely be charged with sticking by him will be Shane Ro- sorry, Glenn Whelan.

Glenn Whelan Glenn Whelan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Remarkably, Whelan has only played a few, inconsequential minutes against the Danes – as a late substitute in the 0-0 first leg play-off draw in 2017.

He sat on the bench and watched Eriksen wreak havoc in Dublin in the return game, as Martin O’Neill made the fatal blunder of replacing the Irish midfield at half-time to chase the game.

The Danes are five points behind Ireland in Group D with a game in hand, although their situation could be far worse, given they trailed Switzerland 3-0 with six minutes remaining of their game in March only to recover to steal a remarkable draw.

There is little doubt a draw of any hue will satisfy McCarthy’s thirst for positivity. 

Republic of Ireland probable: Randolph; Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Stevens; Whelan, Hourihane, Hendrick, Brady, McClean, McGoldrick

Denmark probable: Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjaer, Zanka, Stryger; Schone, Delaney, Eriksen; Poulsen, Braithwaite, Jorgensen

- Originally published at 07.30 

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Gavin Cooney

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