It’s time for Mick McCarthy’s second act with Ireland's soccer team


Mick McCarthy pictured in 1996 at his first press conference just after he was named Irish manager.
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.