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FAI may live to regret the rush to bring in McCarthy

 

Familiar face: Mick McCarthy is back at the helm of the Republic of Ireland
Familiar face: Mick McCarthy is back at the helm of the Republic of Ireland

By Daniel McDonnell

In the hour after the Republic of Ireland's drubbing at the hands of Wales in Cardiff, Virgin Media Sport presenter Tommy Martin introduced the post-match analysis by turning to guest Mick McCarthy and asking him when he would be available to start.

McCarthy was visibly uncomfortable and batted the question away, but the swiftness of developments this week has given us the answer. As soon as the FAI ask him.

Last Sunday, Martin O'Neill sat in a press conference room in Denmark fielding questions about the Irish rugby team's win over the All Blacks. The underlying message was obvious, even if any comparisons are flawed. Why weren't his side capable of inspiring in the same way?

Tomorrow, McCarthy will be unveiled as O'Neill's successor at a press conference, with Terry Connor and Robbie Keane due to be confirmed as part of his management team.

Fast-forward another seven days and the eyes of European football will be on Dublin, with the FAI now relieved they will have McCarthy in situ for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw. It's the only plausible reason for the haste with which they have moved to fill the vacancy.

O'Neill knew his time was up before he went to meet with John Delaney in the aftermath of the Denmark encounter.

On Wednesday morning, the exit of the Londonderry man was formally confirmed. Just 55 hours later, it was announced that McCarthy had agreed a contract offer.

His knowledge has convinced the FAI board to go with the tried and trusted. Stephen Kenny - who had turned down the Under-21 job - was given the impression that he was a contender.

Indeed, there was a belief within his camp that the Dundalk manager would hold further talks with the FAI about the top job.

But McCarthy was always the clear front-runner.

Five years ago, McCarthy was left in limbo after the prevaricating O'Neill decided that he was going to accept the FAI's offer. It would have been particularly harsh on the Barnsley man if he went through a version of the same rejection again.

The rushed nature of the appointment will not take the scrutiny off John Delaney and the FAI board, with a pay-off for the old management team following on from a wasted year that could have allowed a new boss to oversee a transitional process.

Kenny's campaign pitch had called for a more progressive approach and a longer-term vision, yet the obvious complication was that the new manager's first task will be a pair of competitive qualifying matches.

With the finals coming to Dublin in 2020, that is the competition which the FAI simply cannot afford to miss out on.

There is around €15m at stake, although bonuses will eat into the reward - and that incentive will be a major part of McCarthy's contract.

Kenny might have been viewed as a cheaper option, but he was also the braver one; the FAI have gone for their perception of a safer pair of hands.

O'Neill was hired with the brief of bring­ing Ireland to the next Euros, and that is essentially McCarthy's task.

There will be a backlash if he gets off on the wrong foot.

Kenny's vision was a popular one, and Premier Division clubs St Patrick's Athletic and Derry City made the incredible decision to issue statements endorsing the Dundalk boss for the job.

Calls to involve the likes of Lee Carsley and Steven Reid in the set-up appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

McCarthy will have to cope with the national expectations for his next campaign, and the stifling pressure to push the Republic of Ireland towards a unique major tournament summer.

In his time out of work, he's likely had time to ponder what he might do with the players at his disposal.

The burning question is how much thought the FAI have really put into giving him that responsibility.

They need a quick return from their rapid decision.

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