|Mick McCarthy pictured in 1996 at his first press conference just after
he was named Irish manager.
The discussion has taken place many times over the years, at home and abroad. A discussion that is more relevant than ever now.
The Mick McCarthy in Irish return discussion.
McCarthy left the Ireland job on a dreary Lansdowne Road night in 2002. Defeat to Switzerland, weeks after his team were turned over on a plastic pitch in Moscow, ensured the end was nigh.
He had no choice but to resign. Months after the World Cup and the traumas of Saipan, the end was inevitable once results started to go wrong.
And sure enough, sections of the crowd led the cries for a certain “Keano” that night as the Swiss took command of the game and the European Championship qualifying group.
Mick always knew the writing would be on the Lansdowne Road wall when he returned from a World Cup dominated by events on a Pacific island and ended by Spain.
At his press conference the day after he quit, he again said he would always be known as the “a*****e who sent Roy Keane home” in some quarters. It’s a tag that will follow him to the grave. That’s life and he knows it.
There was no option but to resign that October night.
Qualification for the Euros looked lost after the Swiss defeat, and while Mick still had the support of the dressing room it was obvious he had lost the support of the public.
Action was needed and Mick has never been a man afraid to take action, even to his own cost.
The decision was swift and welcomed by all concerned as it helped to close the most fractious chapter in Irish football history.
Mick moved on to manage Sunderland, Wolves and now Ipswich, all the time proving himself as a manager well capable of turning a suffering team around and installing belief and confidence into a damaged club and a damaged squad of players.
He was, of course, sacked at Sunderland after a lack of financial support from his board, and he was sacked at Wolves after a complete lack of faith in a moment of panic by his board.
Right now he is the Ipswich boss, sitting on a two-year contract after rescuing them from the bottom of the Championship last season and keeping them there.
But the Ipswich fans are currently worried on two fronts.
They are concerned that they are about to lose their manager. And they are concerned that speculation about the Ireland job can only damage their hopes of staying in the Championship again. Losing to Burnley at home on Saturday won’t have helped on either front.
They are right to be concerned. Not about the distraction factor because the Mick McCarthy I know would never let anything interfere with his job – and I mean anything.
But they are right to worry that they may lose their manager to the FAI. Mick, you see, has unfinished business with the Ireland team.
And he would go back, I believe, if the FAI make the right offer in the coming days.
Not long after he quit, I met Mick and his wife Fiona at a social event in Dublin. And I told Fiona that her husband would manage Ireland again. Maybe not for a few years but he would return.
From what I can remember, Fiona laughed. But she didn’t dismiss the theory.
She knows better than most what the Ireland team means to her husband, a man who skipped his brother’s wedding to travel to Japan for his first caps.
She knows how much he put into his career as Ireland captain, Ireland defender, Ireland manager. And she knows how much Saipan affected him, never mind anyone else.
The common theory is that Ireland would have won the 2002 World Cup if a certain captain had stayed around long enough to play in the tournament.
The common dismissal is of the fact that Mick McCarthy galvanized those players left behind into a team that got all the way to the last 16 and gave Spain a run for their money, regardless of how many Spanish players were on the pitch in the final minutes.
Mick could have gone after that World Cup but chose not to. He had a contract to see out and he believed he could get Ireland to the Euros. When the crowd turned against him, he became Mick the realist again and he left town.
Now he is in the frame to come back. Every noise emanating from the FAI and the Ireland dressing room suggests that those who run Irish football and those who play for the national team want him back as Martin O’Neill waits for a Premier League job.
Mick hasn’t said he definitely wants the job this time around, but he has repeatedly said in the last few years that he does want to manage his country one more time.
My own fear is that the FAI will spring a candidate from left field on us, just as they sprung Giovanni Trapattoni last time out.
But we don’t need an Italian or a Dutchman this time around. We need someone who understands our football culture, someone who knows our players, someone who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty for Irish football.
Mick McCarthy fits that bill perfectly. And there is no doubt he is a better manager now than he was when he last left the job.
So the FAI should do the decent thing and make their approach this week. Put us all out of our misery. And make that 2002 prediction of a McCarthy return come true.
GAA: The Aussies and the GAA will meet on Wednesday to discuss the future of the hybrid game, the Compromise Rules now known as the International Rules. I don’t know why they are bothering. Saturday’s opening game drew over 17,000 people to Cavan but was still the lowest ever attendance for such a match. And there will be plenty of empty seats in Croker this Saturday for the second leg. The GAA would be better off backing initiatives like the GPA’s hurling trip to Notre Dame last weekend.
GOLF: The great sport of golf is indeed a cruel game. Dubliner Peter Lawrie has retained his European Tour rights for next season by just one place on the order of merit. Kerry’s David Higgins has lost his by five places and a few thousand Euro despite winning over €140,000 this year. Little wonder that Lawrie says he hasn’t been able to eat properly for weeks as he sweated over his livelihood.
GAA: Colm Cooper won yet another Kerry county medal with Dr. Crokes as they destroyed Austin Stacks on Sunday. Cooper opted years ago not to bother with the Compromise Rules game and his performance on Sunday proved him right. He is one of the best Gaelic footballers in the history of the game and has no need to put his body on the line in a Mickey Mouse sport.
SOCCER: The one book I do want for Christmas this year was released on Tuesday when Alex Ferguson launched his latest biography. The Sun in England calls it the Manchester United “book of revelations” and I hope they are right. Fergie’s thoughts on Keane, Beckham, Cantona and Rooney should be worth the cover price alone.
SOCCER: Good job Ireland didn’t finish second in the World Cup qualifying group. Sweden, who pipped Austria and Ireland to the spot, must now play Portugal and Ronaldo in next month’s playoffs. And that’s not a game Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland were ever going to win.
RUGBY: How quickly the sporting landscape changes. All four Irish provinces won their Heineken Cup games last weekend and the world looks a better place. The autumn internationals, particularly the game against New Zealand, may bring us all back down to earth with a bang.
SOCCER: Robbie Keane played as a sub for the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night of last week, less than 30 hours after he scored for Ireland against Kazakhstan. Little wonder then that he has called on the MLS to implement an international break like all proper leagues.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
Ireland’S boxers continue to represent the country like no other sporting team. A gang of them are through to the last 16 at the world championships in Kazakhstan and medals look a certainty. Best of the crop appears to be Joe Ward but I’d love to see Paddy Barnes bring a gold medal home to Belfast. He deserves it.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
The West Brom striker Shane Long labelled interim Ireland boss Noel King a ‘”cowboy” in a tweet issued before the win over Kazakhstan win last week. Long was clearly upset at being left out of the team for the games against Germany and Kazakhstan, but his response was pathetic. If he wants to know why he didn’t feature last week all he has to do is watch the DVD of the Sweden game. The answer will be fairly obvious.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)