THE WIN­NER TAKES IT ALL

Goal-shy Ir­ish are find­ing their feet and know. . .

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Verdict - By CRAIG HOPE

WHEN Mick McCarthy says he would have taken this sce­nario on his reap­point­ment a year ago — beat Den­mark in Dublin tonight and they qual­ify for Euro 2020 — then you re­ally should be­lieve him, for this has been an ugly cam­paign even by Ire­land’s re­cent un­sightly stan­dards.

It started with a for­tu­nate 1-0 win against Gi­bral­tar in March, a match McCarthy de­scribed as ‘hor­ri­ble’, go­ing as far as to say he ‘had not en­joyed a sin­gle minute of it’. Those present on that wind-lashed night were in full agree­ment.

But that strug­gle against the po­lice of­fi­cers and cus­toms of­fi­cials was a sign of the jour­ney to fol­low.

That is not a crit­i­cism of McCarthy. If any­thing, he has done well to nav­i­gate his lim­ited side this far, to a shootout against their old and fa­mil­iar foes.

It is to the man­ager’s credit that come-from-behind draws in Den­mark and at home to Switzer­land have left them with this op­por­tu­nity.

For, in truth, just six goals from a group that con­tains both Gi­bral­tar and Ge­or­gia should have long since left Ire­land planning for the play-offs, which is where they will head if they fail to win this evening.

Last month’s dou­ble­header — a goal­less draw in Ge­or­gia and 2-0 de­feat in Switzer­land — has done lit­tle to in­spire con­fi­dence of a spe­cial night be­neath the lights on Lans­downe Road.

McCarthy, whose man­ner of­ten strad­dles the di­vide be­tween ge­nial and prickly, was most cer­tainly the lat­ter over the course of six days in Tbil­isi and Geneva when he spoke of the ‘be­grudgers’ who crit­i­cised his team. He could not un­der­stand why there was so lit­tle ex­cite­ment given Ire­land were one win away from next sum­mer’s fi­nals.

The re­al­ity, as he learned dur­ing an unin­spir­ing 90 min­utes against the Swiss, is that the pes­simism of sea­soned ob­servers was based en­tirely on the ev­i­dence before them.

Yet, here we are one month on and there ap­pears to be gen­uine be­lief around the Ir­ish camp. Per­haps it is the sim­plic­ity of what they need to do. Or maybe, as is more likely, they feel damn lucky to have this shot at re­demp­tion after fluff­ing their lines in Oc­to­ber. Ei­ther way, McCarthy is more bullish than bel­liger­ent this time around.

In­deed, when re­minded that Ire­land have not beaten Den­mark in five meet­ings over the course of the past two years, he said: ‘When peo­ple tell me: “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 in­stil into ev­ery­body else.

‘Just be­cause it hasn’t hap­pened before doesn’t mean it’s not go­ing to hap­pen again.

There’s 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. ‘For us, al­ways there’s a big per­for­mance in us that can win a game. ‘If I don’t be­lieve it, I might as well go home, and I’m not go­ing home any­time soon.’ The safety net of the play-offs will en­sure that, re­gard­less of what hap­pens tonight. But McCarthy also knows this could be his last com­pet­i­tive game in Dublin, given they are likely to be away from home in the play-offs. ‘I’ve wo­ken up this morning with the but­ter­flies with the boots on and I’m pleased about that, to be hon­est with you,’ he added. ‘That nice feel­ing when you know that the big game is com­ing. I hope I am go­ing to have a big­ger one in June, big­ger games play­ing in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship. But for now, this is the big­gest one.’ On that cold night in Gi­bral­tar, he would have set­tled for the warm glow he now feels.

REUTERS

Danes date: McCarthy (right) and his squad yes­ter­day

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