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Mick McCarthy: 'Jack Byrne lit the place up, to be fair'

The Rovers midfielder made his senior international debut in tonight’s 3-1 win over Bulgaria.

Jack Byrne.
Jack Byrne.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

MICK MCCARTHY HAILED a number of his fringe players for their role in Ireland’s 3-1 friendly win over Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium tonight. 

Ireland took the lead through Alan Browne, and although they allowed Bulgaria equalise from the spot 10 minutes later, they won the game with late goals from Kevin Long and James Collins.

Substitute Jack Byrne, making his Irish debut, was crucial in both of those goals. It was from his corner that Kevin Long headed Ireland back in front, while he sprayed the ball wide to allow Enda Stevens cross for Collins to score. 

“Jack Byrne lit the place up, to be fair, with his forward passing”, McCarthy told his post-game press conference. 

“He’s got that position to play, up behind James (Collins). I told him, ‘if I see you collecting it between the two centre-halves, I’m going to kick him in the hole’.

“He knows that I’m saying that with a glint in my eye, it’s a bit of a joke. But he’s so effective when he’s up the pitch, he’s got goals in him and he started threading balls.

“But let’s just put it in perspective because, would it be different if he was up against those big Swiss midfield players running off him? Absolutely. It’s horses for courses, and we needed to create something, he was excellent.” 

Byrne also created a bit of history, in becoming Ireland’s 500th international when he was sprung from the bench. If he plays in any of the remaining qualifiers, he will be the first League of Ireland to be capped competitively for Ireland since Shamrock Rovers’ Pat Byrne in 1985.

McCarthy made 10 changes in all from the side that drew with the Swiss, and he heaped praise on many others. 

“Ultimately the result pleased me. There were some really good performances. Josh Cullen deserved the man of the match, he was excellent. I thought Alan Browne was. I loved James Collins’ performance when he came on, he knocked the centre-half around, upset him.” 

terry-connor-and-mick-mccarthy Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor gesture along the Aviva sidelines. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The only player to keep his place was Conor Hourihane, although he didn’t retain his position as he found himself thrust to left-back.

“You all got it wrong, it was never an experiment”, said McCarthy. “He has no chance at left-back. Ever.

“I had to give him 65 minutes of football. I know James [McClean] can play there, who else could have played there…Seamus [Coleman] has played all the games, do you want him there?

“I did it to give him minutes on the pitch. The only way it was ever going to be [tried again] was if he knocked my socks off, that he could cope with a flying right-winger which I don’t think he ever could.

“It thought he did well with their right wing-back tonight, but nothing really came down his side.”

He was also impressed with his captain John Egan, hailing his response to finding him out of the team and behind Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy in the pecking order. 

“I thought he did great, he just played well. Sometimes the captain’s armband affects someone in a negative way, and sometimes it’s a positive affect. With John it’s been a positive.

“I keep saying: John is a really good player, but our defensive record with Duffer and Richard Keogh is particularly good, so it’s just unfortunate. That’s happened through the years: good players don’t get games because a partnership is doing well.

“That’s just unfortunate for him, but what I love about him: Has he come in and sulked? Has he heck. He’s come in and had a really good performance tonight.”

Ireland played aggressively high up the pitch tonight, pressing the admittedly deep Bulgarian defence vigorously, but McCarthy tempered expectations we would definitely see a repeat in next month’s game with Tblisi in Georgia. 

“Well we could be higher up as they were passing the ball to each other in the six-yard box. We’ve watched them, have you seen the goals they’ve conceded against England?

“So we right up the pitch, trying to nick it off them. If we were to nick it in the eighteen-yard box we’re likely to score. Like James Collins did when he first came on.

“We tried to press them but let me tell you, we have been at home to Georgia, it’ll be a different ball game when we go there. We will still try to press, we won’t change our way of playing, but if you allow good football teams like Switzerland, Denmark, and Georgia to settle and do what they want to do, it will cause you problems.

“We will try to stop them, but it doesn’t always work.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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