Belfast Telegraph

It's crunch time as the Republic bid to write new chapter

 

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Mobile phone company Three have withdrawn their sponsorship from the FAI
Mick McCarthy

By Daniel McDonnell

The recent history of Irish international football tells us that November never lies. It's proved to be an accurate barometer of where the year has been going for the Republic of Ireland.

In 2015 it was Bosnia and the Euro play-off win in Dublin that reflected the momentum that was built up when it truly mattered in that campaign.

In 2016, James McClean's winner in Vienna turned out to be the highest point in the graph of Martin O'Neill's tenure with the Euros buzz spilling over into the start of the World Cup tilt.

Fast forward to 2017 and it was the World Cup play-off thrashing at the hands of Denmark, an unavoidable talking point this week, a result that was an extreme reflection of how that campaign lost its way.

Twelve months ago, O'Neill was shown the door following scoreless games with Northern Ireland and the Danes that confirmed rot had set in.

What will tonight's decider say about 2019? What has the story of 2019 actually been?

Mick McCarthy would contend that he's done pretty well to bring his side to this position.

It's hard to pinpoint a particularly outrageous decision or theme that makes the case to the contrary. In many respects, he's carried out the job that he was brought in to do.

However, the campaign has also failed to provide a headline performance, that big result that lives long in the memory. The belief that it's coming is based moreso on the character and reputation of an Irish side as opposed to the evidence of what we're seeing on the pitch.

In reality, the best Republic showing in at least three years is required. October's double-header chipped away at the conviction that it's coming.

Draws away to the Danes and at home to the Swiss were respectable, yet they stopped short of being a statement of intent and subsequent showings hinted that the ideas well had run dry.

And yet, as kick-off draws closer, there is a niggling sense that the script for this fixture lends itself to a stirring Irish show. There's no halfway house here. It's win or bust.

McCarthy has cut a relaxed figure in the preliminaries, acknowledging the presence of butterflies in the stomach.

These are the games that he lives for, and his view is that there's no secret formula for managing the final 24 hours of preparation. In his eyes, the body of work across the week is what matters.

With his predecessor, there was a sense that motivational powers came to the fore at the last minute, yet McCarthy feels that his group don't need to be reminded of what's at stake here.

That said, he is of the opinion that the Danes have a superiority complex when it comes to their hosts and that clearly niggles away at him.

"We always have a team meeting and whatever I say, I say," he said. "But it's an ongoing drip-feed and sometimes you get to the stage with the game, certainly when you get to the ground, that you just let the lads get on with it. They know what it's about."

All the signs point to a back to basics attitude.

McCarthy experimented with 3-5-2 in Geneva and it didn't work. The team barely even had time to work on their shape and structure.

The past week has built towards one fixture and, while McCarthy gave little by way of detail at his pre-match soiree, he has previously stated that a flat back four was on the cards.

It was effective in Copenhagen. Richard Keogh and Seamus Coleman are with the group but out of the match for very different reasons. John Egan will partner skipper Shane Duffy, with Matt Doherty coming in for Coleman.

Glenn Whelan's central brief will involve keeping an eye on Christian Eriksen but the Danish threat is multi-layered and that's why McCarthy's big decision is in the wide areas.

Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane should start in support of Whelan with Alan Browne an alternative but it's possible that they could all play, with Hendrick or Browne viewed as a solution on the right side too.

Denmark left-back Jens Stryger Larsen and winger Martin Braithwaite have caused issues in previous meetings. Indeed, it's the tendency of their wide men to come inside that has been referenced by Irish players and that's why it's plausible that the home side will employ a narrow shape.

The assumption is that McClean will retain his place on the left side due to the relentless service that he offers, although McCarthy has referenced that the attack-minded Callum Robinson and Seani Maguire would both prefer to play on that side.

Perhaps Callum O'Dowda, who impressed off the bench last month, is a viable contender on the right.

He can also cover ground and make inroads centrally.

McCarthy is not going to refuse an early goal, but the priority is to ensure the game is alive heading into the business end.

"Don't think for one minute we're just going to dominate the game because that won't happen," said the 60-year-old, just about summing up his pragmatic tone.

David McGoldrick will lead the line and the manager hailed his quality in Abbotstown yesterday, with the 31-year-old now delivering on the potential that was always there.

He confirmed that Troy Parrott will make the matchday squad as one of the cards that will be considered in emergency, even though it would be a big ask for a teenager.

McCarthy praised his movement.

"It could be one of those things on a night that's made for heroes," he mused.

That would be an extraordinary turn of events.

The suspicion is that management are more likely to lean on the tried and trusted.

Major Republic games tend to be preceded by language about being aggressive and getting on the front foot, yet McCarthy has measured that by stressing the importance of solidity.

The Republic's poor scoring record would indicate that the concession of a goal would be fatal. Still, it's worth considering what Denmark's 2019 says about them.

They played poorly in both games with Switzerland and somehow came out with four points. Like the Republic, they toiled in Tbilisi. Let's not place them on too high a pedestal.

The favourites tag is deserved, but the opportunity to earn a place in a major tournament on a home soil surely has to garner a big reaction from the Republic.

Maybe the struggle to find the tactical argument for Irish optimism is telling, but McCarthy is adamant that desire can make a difference.

His brief was to put a smile back on the face of those who are invested in the fortunes of the national side.

If not now, then when?

Denmark

Rep of Ireland

Euro 2020 Qualifying Group D:

Aviva Stadium, Tonight, 7.45pm

PWDLFAPts

Denmark743022515

Switzerland742113514

Rep Ireland73316412

Georgia82247118

Gibraltar70072250

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