Belfast Telegraph

Rising star Connolly has given McCarthy a dilemma


Pitching in: Kevin Long and Aaron Connolly (right) during Republic of Ireland training
Pitching in: Kevin Long and Aaron Connolly (right) during Republic of Ireland training
Mick McCarthy

By Daniel McDonnell

For Mick McCarthy, you sense that a refreshing change lost its novelty value somewhere around the 20th question.

The Republic of Ireland boss has become accustomed to taking queries on players that aren't in his squad. It's a recurring gripe.

He brought up Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy, Ryan Manning and Shane Long yesterday, with a nod to comments in various places about their absence from his plans.

But they were all way down the list compared to the main talking point on the Monday of a massive week for the Republic's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

It was all about a 19-year-old kid from Oranmore in Galway named Aaron Connolly - who scored twice in Brighton's win over Tottenham last weekend - a player that is now very much in the reckoning for involvement in the business end of the campaign.

There were only so many questions McCarthy could answer given that he was speaking before the teenager's first training session with the senior group.

What about that Spurs display? Can he play against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday? Is it a risk? What about everything you said last week? What about his temperament? Is he fitting in?

"You guys ask the questions and it's me who has to make the decision," said McCarthy.

"If I don't pick him, it is 'I can't believe he's not picked him, he scored two goals against Tottenham'. If I do pick him and he has a meltdown and doesn't play well, it's 'I can't believe he gave him his debut'."

He was smiling as he made the point, having gone through this drill before.

If all of his answers were to be summarised, the basic point is that Connolly's heroics on Saturday showed he could do it against the big boys, but there's still a slight concern about pitching him into a competitive qualifier because of the additional pressure that might accompany.

Those mental factors present the 'step up' rather than the actual standard of play.

But there is another question to consider and that is the simple matter of where Connolly might play if he does debut. It's a happy type of dilemma.

Given that McCarthy said he would only bring in members of Stephen Kenny's Under-21 squad if they are going to figure, then it's safe to assume he will get on the pitch in Georgia or in the Geneva clash with the Swiss.

McCarthy has said he will play a front three as usual in Tbilisi, although that shape is much closer to a 4-5-1 if the Republic don't have the ball.

David McGoldrick is odds against to figure in Georgia, with Switzerland a more realistic target for both the Sheffield United player and Shane Duffy.

Therefore, the vacancy in the centre of attack needs to be filled, and McCarthy's positivity about James Collins suggest the Luton player is in the frame.

On the right side, Callum Robinson is the man in possession and the manager likes his understanding with Seamus Coleman.

James McClean has played all of the matches on the left side, although Enda Stevens' suspension means the Stoke player is a candidate for left-back.

McCarthy is confident that Connolly could operate in all three forward positions. It still requires a leap of faith to believe that he would be thrust into the No.9 role in a McCarthy team.

Therefore, the real value of the week in training may be ascertaining if a Matt Doherty/Connolly union would work on the left. Or a McClean/Connolly combination. Or maybe even a Coleman/Connolly duo on the other side.

McCarthy stressed: "He is very quick. Sometimes it's not a willingness to work hard, but the nous that if someone gets a run on you, you get yourself into the (right) position. I don't think he would shirk that responsibility."

Belfast Telegraph


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