There are few more enduring sporting characters around than Mick McCarthy. The plain-speaking Yorkshireman is currently enjoying his second spell as manager of the Republic of Ireland’s national football team.
In a few short days, the Irish face two crunch away ties in their battle to qualify for next summer’s Euro 2020 tournament. As things stand, Ireland are top of Group D but far from securing their place at the Finals. With three matches remaining there are, realistically, three nations battling for the two qualifying slots – the Republic, Denmark and Switzerland.
And if McCarthy were to successfully lead the team into the final stages of Euro 2020, it would be the fourth time in his career that he will have been involved in a major summer tournament – twice as a player and two more as a manager.
As a no-nonsense defender, McCarthy played for the Republic at the Euro Finals in Germany of 1988 and two years later at the World Cup in Italy. He played in his country’s famous 1-0 victory over England in Stuttgart 31 years ago, as well as the penalty shoot-out success against Romania in Genoa in 1990 – when Ireland made it all the way to the quarter-finals.
As a player, he represented the team more than 50 times before putting on his tracksuit and guiding Ireland to the 2002 World Cup as manager. And now, almost 18 years later, he is on the verge of reaching the Euro finals.
The Barnsley-born McCarthy who, at club level, has managed Millwall, Sunderland, Wolves and Ipswich, returned to the international game when he was appointed boss of Ireland in November 2018 – replacing Martin O’Neill who together with his assistant Roy Keane had been in charge for five years.
It had been McCarthy’s fall out with Keane before the 2002 World Cup which ultimately led to his downfall in the autumn of that year. Keane had been sent home in disgrace ahead of the Finals, when Ireland went on to reach the knockout stages, before losing on penalties to Spain. A poor start to Euro 2004 qualifying, with many football fans in Ireland pledging their support for Keane instead of McCarthy, led to the latter’s dismissal.
Last year former Ireland great Liam Brady said he was delighted that McCarthy was getting a second chance at managing the team, commenting: “I’m pleased to see him back. He got a raw deal last time.
“But he has his work cut out because he doesn’t have the quality of players he had in 2002. The calibre of players available to our main rivals in the group, Denmark and Switzerland, is superior to ours but with Mick we’ll have a fighting chance.”
Next up for Ireland is Georgia on October 12 in Tbilisi, before heading to Geneva for the final away game of Group D against Switzerland. Georgia cannot qualify themselves but will not be an easy opponent for Ireland in their own backyard. Despite currently topping Group D, the bookies are predicting Ireland will finish third in the football betting. Bet365 have them at 5/1, while Switzerland are 4/5, with Denmark 6/4.
However with McCarthy in charge, as Brady pointed out, Ireland will still feel upbeat about their chances of making it through to the Finals. McCarthy, who turned 60 earlier this year, has always managed to wring the last drop of talent out of his players – at both club and international level.
His most recent club Ipswich did not renew his contract, following finishing positions of 14th, 9th, 6th, 7th, 16th and 12th. The following season, without McCarthy, the Tractor Boys finished bottom and were relegated from the Championship.
For McCarthy, his attention is now focussed on the trip to eastern Europe when Ireland face the first of two key games within four days, followed by a home clash with Denmark in November to round off qualifying. Fingers crossed McCarthy will do Ireland proud one more time and add another line to his own impressive CV.