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'There are not that many strikers around in the Premier League, and a young one... I’m delighted'

Mick McCarthy says he is encouraged by the progress of young Irish attacker Michael Obafemi.

Michael Obafemi recently made his Ireland debut against Denmark.
Michael Obafemi recently made his Ireland debut against Denmark.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

- Paul Fennessy reports from the Convention Centre

IRELAND BOSS MICK McCarthy says he is encouraged with the progress made by young striker Michael Obafemi of late.

It has been a whirlwind few weeks for the 18-year-old. Last month, he made his international debut in Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Denmark in the Nations League. In addition, on Tuesday, he lined out for his full competitive debut with Southampton in the League Cup against Leicester, while he made his first Premier League start during the Saints’ 2-2 draw with Man United on Saturday evening.

Previously, Obafemi made four Premier League appearances off the bench for Southampton, in the process becoming their second youngest debutant ever after Luke Shaw.

And McCarthy is hopeful the Dublin-born attacker can maintain his current run of form ahead his side’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers in March, with an appearance in the Danish clash last month ensuring he is tied down to the Boys in Green, having also been eligible to represent Nigeria and England.

“I said it the other night, we were discussing it when he made his debut and Martin brought him on, I said we might be looking down the line and lauding Martin O’Neill for doing that because there are not that many strikers around in the Premier League, and a young one [is rare],” the Irish boss said at today’s Euro 2020 draw in Dublin.

He played well yesterday, apparently. I didn’t see the game — I was doing other things here. I’m delighted. I hope he stays in the team and develops into a Premier League footballer that I can pick in March.”

The Irish team have suffered a poor run of results in 2018, winning just one of their last nine games and scoring only four goals in the process.

Michael D Higgins and Mick McCarthy Irish president Michael D Higgins and Ireland manager Mick McCarthy pictured at today's Euro 2020 draw. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

McCarthy, meanwhile, has warned fans not to expect a drastic change from the latter days of the O’Neill era immediately, given the limited time he has to work with the players.

“They’ll play on the Saturday and we’ll get together on the Sunday, and they’ll play on the Thursday. We’re hardly going to have a revolution in the style of play. ‘Let’s have a season to turn it around’ – that’s not going to be the case. It’s going to have to be well-drilled in four or five games, be organised, be ready to go, that we know what we’re doing and be competitive. Five days preparation isn’t going to change the world, believe me. It might change the result.”

The Boys in Green could still qualify for Euro 2020 via the Nations League play-offs should they fail to finish in the top-two spots in their qualifying group, but McCarthy insists he is not thinking about that possibility as of yet.

The ex-Wolves and Ipswich boss also said that the fact his team have played three of their four opponents in the group in at least one of the last two qualifying campaigns was a positive.

The lads will have played against them, so maybe it will be a good thing. It’s a different competition. If you’re playing in a league, every year, you play the same teams. You go back and play them every year. So do you get familiar with them? I don’t think you have to change things.

“Maybe they’ll change things. There’s a different manager here now, a different coach with different ideas. If anybody’s taking us for granted or will treat us with a bit of contempt, as I’ve just been asked about Denmark… I don’t think for one minute anyone will.”

After the hype surrounding his appointment last week, McCarthy admitted that it was a relief to now be able to focus primarily on football.

“It feels like I am doing the job now, because we have got something tangible and it’s not just, ‘oh you’re doing the job’ and you’ve got nothing going.

“At least I know what teams we have, I can watch the players, I can watch past games and just get down to planning.”

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Paul Fennessy

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