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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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McCarthy bemused by lack of positivity but few signs pointing to Irish win in Geneva

Based on the evidence of last weekend, Ireland will struggle tonight to find the result that can send them to Euro 2020 with a game to spare.

YOU’RE LIKELY SICK of hearing how the Swiss flag is a big plus, but Mick McCarthy is in Geneva and wondering why he isn’t hearing about more of them.

(If you’re still reading after that intro – thanks.)

mick-mccarthy Mick McCarthy pictured during yesterday's training session in Geneva. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ever since full-time in Georgia, the Irish boss has been accentuating the positives.

Hence McCarthy has said he’d have taken draw in Tbilisi had he been offered it ahead of travel, has talked with bemusement about the “peddlers of doom and gloom”, and told his pre-match press conference that “I don’t get the sense in here from you guys that we might win at all.”

McCarthy has always said he pays no attention to the commentary swirling around his teams – hence he gave us nothing to add beyond the existing collective indignity to Peter Schmeichel’s “Ireland are so bad” comment – but says that an air lacking in positivity has occasionally reflected his way, irritating him like the staccato bouncing of the sun’s sharp glare off passing cars.

“I genuinely don’t read it”, said McCarthy of media coverage. “I just keep getting messages from people saying ‘F the begrudgers’ and I keep thinking, what’s going on?”

McCarthy is right to say that Ireland’s position is not a bad one. They need to win one of their final two games to qualify for Euro 2020, and beating one of the two sides ranked ahead of you once isn’t an unreasonable ask to qualify for a major tournament.

But it’s also true to say that it could have been a lot better had Ireland won in Georgia on Saturday. Had that happened, Ireland could have drawn their way to the finals, loyal to the spirit of the curious artists they are.

While he has admitted Ireland didn’t keep the ball well in Tbilisi, McCarthy has been at pains to stress this hasn’t been the case across the rest of qualification and also talked up the Georgian performance, which is increasingly becoming one of the most highly-regarded displays of football of 2019.

“I want to give credit to Georgia. Since I’ve come into the squad I’ve played against them quite a number of times and the improvement in their team over the years has been immense”, said Seamus Coleman yesterday. 

“Maybe some of you might acknowledge they are a good side”, McCarthy told the Irish journalists before him. “I wonder in the past when Ireland went to Georgia, have they been dominant, and overran Georgia?”

McCarthy was then given a run-down of recent Irish results in Tbilisi and concluded by saying “So we’ve never mullered them, have we? No. I just thought that when we went there [people seemed to think] we should have hammered them.”

He might be right, and past struggles in Georgia were often avatars for the unreasonableness of outsider’s expectations of this Irish team.

shane-duffy-dejected Shane Duffy reacts to his late missed chance in Georgia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Saturday’s was slightly different, though. 

Whereas many critics of the side over previous miseries in Georgia might reflect with a “we just don’t have the players” lament, some of the criticism of the Georgia performance was rooted in the fact we don’t yet know if we just don’t have the players.

That Aaron Connolly made such an impact having come on relatively late in the game feeds into those declaiming McCarthy’s conservative approach, and his reticence to change a struggling midfield is adding grist to that mill.

The clamour for Connolly to start tonight’s game may be too much for even McCarthy to ignore, and if he does start, McCarthy said the teenager will need some support, either alongside him or beside him.

As to whether there will be other changes – and what they may be – is unclear, as McCarthy spent the pre-game press conference as coy on team selection as he ever is.

Alan Judge is a candidate to play behind Connolly, as is Callum Robinson who is much more effective centrally. Alan Browne, the first substitute in Tbilisi, is a slightly more defensive option while Jack Byrne is an outside shot.

Josh Cullen may press for inclusion in midfield, but McCarthy said yesterday he is “very happy with his midfielders” and said Glenn Whelan playing a second game in four days isn’t an option. Jeff Hendrick may be pushed right to accommodate Connolly and his support party.

Enda Stevens will probably return to left-back for Matt Doherty.

McCarthy was full of praise for Switzerland yesterday, talking of how they are the best team in the group and their dominance against Denmark last Saturday.

They have their problems, however, and this year have developed a problematic habit of losing late goals. First they managed to lose a three-goal lead in the final 10 minutes of the home tie with Denmark, and in the summer were two minutes from extra-time against Portugal in the Nations League semi-finals before Cristiano Ronaldo intervened with a couple of goals.

They conceded late against Ireland in Dublin, of course, and lost Saturday’s game in Copenhagen to a Yussuf Poulsen goal six minutes from the end.

There is much fretting in the shadow of this tendency, with Vladimir Petkovic, Yan Sommer, and Granit Xhaka all taking questions about it at the pre-match press conference yesterday. Petkovic admitted it was a failing, but was coy on its remedy other than the need to be more decisive in front of goal.

Some players have talked with exasperation on it – Stephan Lichtsteiner spat that “Denmark got their birthday and Christmas presents together by taking four points from us” after Saturday’s defeat.

mick-mccarthy McCarthy laughs during yesterday's press conference. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

That frailty may be exacerbated by their need to win. If the Swiss don’t win tonight, qualification from the group will effectively be out of their hands, assuming Denmark beat Gibraltar in their penultimate game.

Unless the Danes fall victim to the mother of all shocks, Switzerland have to win their final games with Georgia and Gibraltar and hope Ireland then don’t beat Denmark in Dublin.

While their recent record in the group may leave them resting uneasily, they will take succour from their competitive home record, where they haven’t lost in five years.

McCarthy said he would “absolutely” take a draw tonight, but affirmed his usual approach that Ireland would try to win the game. A draw isn’t useless to Ireland – it will probably mean playing against an already-qualified Denmark on the final day.

Seamus Coleman has talked of how he trusts Ireland to find another great performance in either of the two final games, and if it comes, McCarthy will deserve to soak in all the positivity that will come his way. 

Based on the evidence of last Saturday and patches of previous games with Switzerland and Gibraltar, however, believing that great performance will come tonight is another of Irish football’s heady leaps of faith. 

Switzerland (Possible XI): Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach); Rodriguez (Milan); Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Schär (Newcastle United), Akanji (Borussia Dortmund); Mbabu (Wolfsbug); Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach), Xhaka (Arsenal); Mehmedi (Wolfsburg); Embolo (Borussia Monchengladbach) Seferovic (Benfica).

Republic of Ireland (Possible XI): Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Egan (Sheffield United), Stevens (Sheffield United); Hendrick (Burnley), Whelan (Hearts), Hourihane (Aston Villa), McClean (Stoke); Browne (Preston); Connolly (Brighton)

On TV: RTÉ/Sky Sports [KO: 7.45pm] 

- Originally published at 12.00 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Geneva, Switzerland

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