Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Mick McCarthy during his press conference today.
# Against the odds
McCarthy: 'I guess the only surprise to everyone tomorrow will be if we win'
The Irish manager may believe his side are being written off ahead of tomorrow’s Euro 2020 qualifier with Denmark, but he isn’t lacking in confidence.

IT BECAME PRETTY clear early in Mick McCarthy’s second reign that he doesn’t appreciate questions inferring that the Irish players are less talented than [insert opponent here], so those questions usually fall to the visiting journalists nowadays. 

And so a Danish television presenter asked McCarthy this morning: “It’s been said that the Danish players are better technically than the Irish. Do you agree?” 

“It has been said by whom?”, came the reply. 

“Uhm, the Danes.” 

“Well, that might tell you something. Self-praise is no praise, I’m afraid”, said McCarthy. 

The mathematics of tomorrow are pretty straightforward – Ireland need to beat Denmark to qualify for Euro 2020; a draw will do the Danes. 

Ireland are guaranteed a play-off through the Nations League if they can’t win tomorrow night, but McCarthy said he hasn’t paid that fall-back option any notice yet. “I would prefer to get it done tomorrow.” 

Based on the mountain of recent evidence, getting it done tomorrow looks to be a tall task. Ireland have, granted, only lost once to Denmark in their five meetings in the last two years, but have drawn the four games around the 5-1 incident in the World Cup play-offs. 

During his pre-game press conference, McCarthy occasionally gave the impression that he was inviting a siege to harden the Irish mentality, most notably when he was asked if his side could spring a surprise on the Danes given the absurd level of familiarity between the sides. 

I guess the only surprise to everyone tomorrow will be if we win

Revisiting this comment later, he said, “Well, the question was about surprises wasn’t it? It appears to me [an Irish win would be a surprise] with the feeling behind it.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise to me. I’m really directing that at other people, not to me or the players. I do believe always that we can win the game.” 

He did cast Ireland as underdogs, referencing the 1973 FA Cup final in which the Leeds team he supported were shocked 1-0 by Sunderland. 

“I’ve seen a lot of cup finals. I was a big Leeds fan as a kid, I remember watching that final Sunderland. Leeds were an absolute shoo-in, Sunderland couldn’t win. And guess what? They did.

“All of the games I’ve been seen or been involved in subsequently, when there are teams that shouldn’t win, as the other side has a better team and better players and a better manager and everything is in their favour… and they get slapped.

“Well, that’s what I’m hoping will happen tomorrow.”

The topic of the 5-1 was alluded to plenty of times throughout…and if only the rest of us could scrub it from our mind as easily as McCarthy has. 

“Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t given it any thought and it is not something I will be speaking about, to be honest.” 

The 1-1 draw in Copenhagen in June is a preferable source of motivation, he says. 

“We drew in Denmark and played well in Denmark and actually could have won it in the end, so I would prefer to talk about that and the positive side of things rather than remind people of the negative.

“I can’t imagine in your life that if someone keeps bringing up the negative stuff that you have done helps you be any better than you can be.” 

On the topic of motivation, McCarthy says he doesn’t have any last-minute performances or set pieces under wraps. 

“You see, that’s where there’s a bit of a misconception, that I should be doing something between now and the kick-off to get a big performance.

 “Do you not think that it’s on an ongoing basis that you get those? Do you not think that it’s on a daily basis, all the time speaking to the players, the work that we do, the stuff that we show them, the interaction that we have with them is that what creates that atmosphere that we get big performances out of them? I don’t ever think that there’s anything, something just very special that you can do on the day before the game that’s going to create something.

“They’re all looking forward to a full house, a game that means so much to them and to the country. Sometimes you might have to just calm people down rather than wind them up.” 

On this topic, the invitation of Richard Keogh to join the squad over the weekend wasn’t to gee up his players. 

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“I invited him in to show him a bit of love from the rest of us, from the lads – and they all did , they were all delighted to see him.

“It’s not some kind of motivational tool getting him in, it’s just he’s been around – I don’t know how many games he’s played for us now, but in the games he’s played, he’s been brilliant, and he’s such a great guy.

“He’s a good character to have around and he’s enjoyed the fact that he’s been around the lads for a while.”

Ireland have no injury concerns, with goalkeeper Darren Randolph ready to start tomorrow night. He was famously coy on his team selection, but it is widely expected to be along similar lines to the side that has started the qualifier games thus far. 

Glenn Whelan should play in midfield, while Shane Duffy captains the side in Seamus Coleman’s suspension-enforced absence. 

Let’s finish with a question from a visiting journalist too. 

“Why do you think you can win tomorrow night?” 

“When people tell me that, ‘You haven’t beaten somebody for so many times’ – well, I always believe it’s about time we did and that’s the mentality that I try to instill into everybody else.

“Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again. There are loads of places being flooded in England at the minute – they’ve never been flooded before, but they are because it’s been raining a lot.

You know, if you cover football, you cover sport, that results happen. Results happen for a reason, whether that’s us that are more motivated, it’s us that fancy the game more, it’s us that stops your team playing, your team doesn’t play as well.

“I just think that for us, always there’s a big performance in us that can win a game. And we drew in Denmark. You had a few chances, but nevertheless, it was a great performance and great result for us.”

“If I don’t believe it I might as well go home, and I’m not going home anytime soon.” 

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