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'Don't think that because they're doing well in the Championship, they're going to come in and play against Slovakia'

Mick McCarthy is likely to stick with ‘tried and tested’ players for the vital play-off clash.

Mick McCarthy pictured speaking at an event earlier today.
Mick McCarthy pictured speaking at an event earlier today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRISH BOSS MICK McCarthy has confirmed there won’t be too many surprises in his team when Ireland face Slovakia in a crucial Euro 2020 play-off on 26 March.

Youngsters such as Adam Idah, Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight have all impressed at underage level, while the likes of Kieran Sadlier and Ronan Curtis are enjoying impressive seasons at club level, with the Irish coach recently talking up the latter.

Nevertheless, McCarthy suggested he was likely to stick with the players who have been regulars through the campaign — individuals such as Jeff Hendrick, Shane Duffy, Glenn Whelan and James McClean.

“I’ll get all these names thrown at me,” he said. “Continuity has been at the base of all my teams and we’ve had that pretty much with the squad.

“The best performance was the Denmark game. I did point out to somebody, if I’d been at a club for 10 games, and we had the results we’ve had, you’d expect us to be getting better after 10 games, doing exactly the same thing, or at least trying to. So there’s not going to be big change, that’s for sure. If the lads who’ve been playing are fit, they’ll be first in contention.”

Of the U21 players, McCarthy added: “They’re all doing well, but don’t think that because they’re doing well in the Championship, they’re going to come in and play against Slovakia, that’s not the case. But they’re doing great and it’s brilliant for Stephen [Kenny]. That’s his U21 squad, they’re going to be playing league football, they’ll be much better players.

“I’m not saying there’s no chance for anybody else, but our best performance came against Denmark [in Dublin], and that team had players that were tried and tested, players that had been around the squad.

“I’m convinced, in fact I know, it’s not the game for debutants to come in. It’s always exciting and it’s a new story, it’s great for you guys if there’s one in, but if they come in and it doesn’t go well for them… I don’t know too many debutants who have come in in a play-off game.”

On the other hand, while they are not exactly unfamiliar faces given the wealth of caps both have accumulated, Shane Long and James McCarthy could perhaps figure, even though they have played no part in the Irish team so far under the Barnsley native.

McCarthy had particularly encouraging words for Long, suggesting he had put himself in contention after a series of improved displays for Southampton.

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The Crystal Palace star, meanwhile, has preferred in the recent past to focus on getting back to full fitness after a number of serious injuries. He has finally started to get some proper game time under his belt in recent months, with the 29-year-old having made 23 appearances in total so far for the Eagles this season — the most he has managed since the 2015-16 campaign.

“He’s looking healthy, he just needs to be playing,” McCarthy said of his namesake. “Nobody’s doubting his ability. When he’s come in, he’s been injured on a couple of occasions and he’s not been playing. It’s great that he’s got in [to the Palace starting XI] and is playing some games.

“He’s got a much better chance if he’s playing, it’s as simple as that. He’s got no chance if he’s not playing.

“I’ve watched him on the television. I spoke to Roy [Hodgson] about him, he’s pleased with him. I’m down to go see him play, so he’s another one — it’s better when they’re playing.”

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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