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'There’s two or three times I’ve selected him and he’s not come'

The Ireland boss was unwilling to give any promises as to whether James McCarthy would feature as part of the Slovakia trip.

Crystal Palace's James McCarthy.
Crystal Palace's James McCarthy.
Image: Martin Rickett

Updated Feb 11th 2020, 8:29 AM

IRELAND BOSS MICK McCarthy has kept his cards close to his chest on the matter of James McCarthy and whether the midfielder could feature in the Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia next month.

The midfielder has established himself in the Premier League with Crystal Palace this season, after enduring an awful time with injuries.

A succession of problems, including a leg break, have severely limited the player’s first-team opportunities in recent years.

However, he has appeared a total of 23 times this season — the 2015-16 season was the last time he bettered that number.

But the Irish boss was still unwilling to confirm whether the midfielder would be available for the game in Bratislava on 26 March.

With Glenn Whelan 36 and enduring difficulties at club level this season, and other midfield options like Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight yet to have been capped at senior level, some critics feel McCarthy is the ideal man for the holding midfield role.

However, the former Everton star has been reluctant to commit to Irish squads in recent months, as he bids to fully recover from his injury problems.

The Irish boss confirmed previous attempts to coax McCarthy to re-join the international set-up proved fruitless, though suggested the player would be well able to cope if called upon.

The exception is that he’s played before, he wouldn’t be coming in and making a debut. It wouldn’t be alien to him and all new to him. He wouldn’t be nervous about it, so there is an exception for him, yeah.

“I think because of his injuries he’s probably been a little bit hesitant in coming in and playing. Maybe he thought he wouldn’t be playing and wanted to get back his club form first. He’s got that back. It’s whether I pick him now or not. We’ll see. There’s two or three times I’ve selected him and he’s not come in for whatever reason, whether it was his injury or he wanted to get his form back, didn’t think he was ready, we’ll see now.”

McCarthy did confirm another option, 20-year-old Brighton youngster Molumby, was down the pecking order, despite starring for the U21s and currently enjoying an impressive loan stint in the Championship with Millwall.

“I understand the questions when they’re doing well in the Championship and he played well yesterday. They’re really pleased with him at Millwall.

“Strangely enough, I understand the size of the task making your debut as a senior international. And I made it as a hard-nosed pro. What was I? 25? With nearly 300 league games under my belt. I knew what it meant and even more so when I got to Denmark and it’s a World Cup qualifier — different ball game altogether.

“So Glenn, for me, who has been probably the star man in three or four of our games, he has the edge on those, without any doubt.”

McCarthy also suggested he was unlikely to change his thinking on the Seamus Coleman-Matt Doherty conundrum. The Wolves man has been impressive for club and country alike in recent times, though McCarthy has expressed the belief — notably after the opening qualifier away to Gibraltar — that playing the two of them in the same team doesn’t work. Despite renewed speculation that the two stars could be accommodated, McCarthy suggested his original opinion had not changed.

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“I’ve wrestled with it once and I came into the press conference and said, ‘that didn’t work, it won’t be happening again’. Probably won’t be…unless I haven’t got a right-side [player].”

In addition to Doherty, another high-profile name who may be held in reserve is Robbie Brady. The 28-year-old winger has made just 14 appearances in total and five Premier League starts for Burnley this season.

“You know that it’s a concern, you know the answer to that question, because I have said that all along.

If players are not playing, and Robbie certainly comes into that bracket at the moment, as he has not played for a long time, and I guess [played] bit-part football. It was the same in November and we are now in February, and he is still not playing.

“So it makes it difficult for him.”

Meanwhile, McCarthy was reluctant to look too far ahead when quizzed on a potential Euro 2020 play-off final against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, but insisted his side would be fearful of such an encounter.

“I’m not going to be intimidated going to Windsor Park, to be quite honest. And I don’t think the players are going to be, if that’s where the players are going.

“If we end up playing them, it means we’ve beaten the first one, I’d be delighted, so being intimidated, I don’t think so. Here we go again, if Darren Randolph and the Doc or Seamus and Duffer and John Egan and Enda Stevens all those boys, Glenn Whelan, are getting intimidated by going anywhere, then we’ve got a real problem — I don’t think that’s the case. But it might be the case if we’ve got kids playing.”

He continues: ”We all know it’s hard [potentially playing two away games], we can sit here and waffle about it all day long, we’ve got to believe we can, and I think if we look, the first one is the key one. If we win the first one, I think we’ll win the second one, we’ll get momentum, we’ll win the second one. But we’ve got to beat Slovakia first and they are no mugs by any stretch.”

Mick McCarthy was speaking at an event to announce a new partnership with the leading Irish sports retailer INTERSPORT Elverys, as the new title sponsor of the FAI Summer Soccer Schools.

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Paul Fennessy

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