PJ Cunningham says retuning ROI manager Mick McCarthy has learnt
to just go with the flow
The ‘luck of the Irish’ doesn’t exist but tell that to people who write headlines in newspapers. Lady Luck has the same regard or disregard for English, American and Irish players and teams because over sporting campaigns, you’ll find that for ever ‘rub of the green’ a team or individual gets, there are as many times where misfortune will be part of the story narrative.
Just like in every walk of life, there will be more or less an even amount of ups and downs. And yet…..
Yes, if you were looking in at the draw for the Euro 2020 championship made in Dublin on Sunday morning, you could be forgiven for thinking that somebody up there likes us.
Just as Martin O’Neill and his sidekick Roy Keane couldn’t borrow or buy an ounce of good fortune this past year, no sooner does Mick McCarthy breeze into town than the wind seems to be blowing in our favour.
Unlike the tetchy O’Neill, when Mick was asked what would happen should he go and win the European Championship, he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and declared: “Well, it will mean I’ll be in demand elsewhere, won’t it?”
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) December 2, 2018
Here’s the reaction of a man who has experienced the vicissitudes of sporting life – from Captain Fantastic in Italia ‘90 to Saipan casualty in 2002 with the aforementioned Keane – and now understands that going with the flow is the best way to handle most issues.
Which brings us back to Sunday morning. The Republic were in the third tanking group and when Holland and Germany came out as the first two seeds, there was a gasp of shock when the Republic were pulled out next in line in Group C. No luck there we agreed in that split second of realisation as we contemplated tough nights in Munich and Amsterdam.
Napoleon in his halcyon day on the European front said all he ever asked for were to have “lucky generals’ on his side to win the spoils in battle.
For Napoleon in this instance, read John Delaney. The FAI CEO must surely be convinced this week that he has acquired a black cat as before a full expulsion of air was complete from those in attendance, a little known rule was activated whereby no more than two host countries could be in any one group. (The next championships have 12 host countries, ergo the need to come up with new requirements for who could and could not be drawn together).
So just as we felt Lady Luck had turned her back on us, we were moved out of the group and another team – Northern Ireland – were given the poisoned chalice instead.
As it transpired, Mick’s lads ended up in Group D with Switzerland as top seeds and Denmark as the No 2 rated county in the Group, then ourselves with a third ranking status ahead of Georgia and Gibraltar.
True to form afterwards, McCarthy talked up how tough this group would be while all the while trying to suppress the big smile he wanted to crack all across his face in relief at avoiding two of Europe’s big two football nations.
“I’m not saying our group is easier but the Netherlands and Germany would have been a really tough ask and then of course Michael O’Neill (Northern Ireland manager) got it,” said the new Irish boss, so deadpan that you’d swear he believed what he was saying.
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) December 2, 2018
Mick has been around the block before and well, if he is to become ‘Lucky Mick’ over the next few years, then I for one will believe it is all down to good karma.
There are no pushovers in football any more and the Swiss are currently the No 1 ranked Euro nation but I’d rather face them than Spain, France or Portugal… or indeed Holland and Germany.
After looking like Irish soccer was in a bad place only weeks ago, the arrival of a new manager and a new sense of perspective has given us all a new lift and sense of optimism.
Like many others, I had become ashamed of the neanderthal football we played under O’Neill and if the past is anything to go by, then McCarthy’s side will try to pass the spherical object around rather than just hoof it up in the air.
He is an underrated manager who has done well with club and country in the past. For instance, the boo-boys of Ipswich were less than complimentary about how the Barnsley-born boss had done at Portman Road last season, resulting in Mick leaving his post four games before the season ended.
At that stage they were safe in the championship, having threatened promotion on the clippings of tin for a few seasons.
This season the team that Mick kept together are adrift for the old Division 3 (League 1) and you can’t help but think it was no more than “the numbskulls” deserved.
Mick hasn’t said anything like that but the way he is approaching the Irish job, it appears that he feel he has a new lease of life and will give this qualifying his very best shot.
And with those and, of course, a ‘rub of the green’, who knows where we will end up – European Championship Finals in Dublin in two years time anyone?
Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying fixtures:
March 23 – Gibraltar (A); March 26 – Georgia (H); June 7 – Denmark (A); June 10 – Gibraltar (H; Sept 5 – Switzerland (H); Oct 12 – Georgia (A); Oct 15 – Switzerland (A); Nov 18 – Denmark (H).