‘If their mother or father is Irish, they have as much right to play for Ireland as anybody else’


Mick McCarthy celebrates the historic victory over Romania in 1990
Mick McCarthy celebrates the historic victory over Romania in 1990
Ready to return: Mick McCarthy is itching to make a return to management following his departure from Ipswich Town, but he enjoyed a rare summer off, where he could spend time with his family. Photo: Brian McEvoy

Mick McCarthy knows better than most how the concepts of harmony and outrage are strictly transient in football, so he could be forgiven a weary chuckle at this week’s sense of Irish football sliding back towards the circus ring.

Even before another performance from the national team that never quite rose to the level of coherence, disquiet was audible in light of Declan Rice particularly and Harry Arter resisting the humdrum charms of Cardiff on a September Thursday. The idea of some English-born players finding reason to feel uncomfortable within an Irish squad might have seemed peculiar to some.

Not to McCarthy.

Success soap-scents everything, but the Irish squad he first walked into in 1984 was riven with all manner of petty energies designed to make someone with a stark Barnsley accent inclined to keep their voice down. As he puts it: “There was an energy towards us, people like myself, Chris Hughton, Eamonn O’Keefe, Seamus McDonagh, all these lads who came over and played.

“I just think it was the team wasn’t doing great. I always remember Liam (Brady) having some unbelievable fall-out. It wasn’t a good time for the Irish full-stop.

“Actually, that period was a really horrible period. And it must have been tough for Eoin Hand to manage that. Because we weren’t universally accepted here, definitely not. Of course, it changes as you play.

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“When Jack (Charlton) came in and you’re playing in a team that’s being successful, it didn’t really matter then. Success almost covers everything up. It doesn’t matter what a player’s done… almost… you know people will forgive him pretty much anything. Drink-driving charges, going out, doing whatever it is, they’ll be forgiven if they’re being successful.

“But that time I joined, it wasn’t. We ended up losing our last (World Cup) qualifying game 1-4 to Denmark on a pitch that wasn’t fit to play on at Lansdowne Road. Then Jack came in and I signed for Celtic (May ’87), which had a huge impact on my acceptance.

Mick and Jack.jpg
June 1990; Republic of Ireland Manager Jack Charlton has a quick word with Captain Mick McCarthy immediatley prior to the Republic of Ireland v Holland, World Cup Finals, Group Match, Palermo, Italy. Soccer. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

“So Jack coming, me playing in the team, signing for Celtic, us winning and then going to the European Championship finals (’88), suddenly I’m ‘Captain Fanstastic’! You know, going from what I started off as… and that wasn’t my title by the way…but you get my drift.

“If it’s happening now, it’s kind of sad. Because Ireland need them all. And they (English-born players) have every bit as much a right to play for Ireland, if their mother or father is Irish, as anybody else!”

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Of course we know him more as a manager these days rather than that great, immoveable barge at the base of an Irish defence. It is, after all, more than a quarter of a century since he was appointed player-manager of Milwall and McCarthy has never been a year out of work since.

But it’s six months now since he stepped away from the radiation of some angry voices at Ipswich Town and, while he is on the media’s side of that oft-quoted marquee now “pissing, but I don’t think I’m trying to piss into anybody’s tent”, his absolute desire is for a return inside.

Trouble is, there’s an honour required to how a man must go after new employment and he’s not of a mind to abuse it.

“It’s a kind of a ‘Catch-22’ situation,” he agrees, acknowledging that, by the time most clubs advertise a position, they’ve most likely already got it filled.

“I can honestly say I’ve never done it (pursued the job of someone still in situ),” he says emphatically. “Ipswich? Paul Jewell recommended me. Wolves? They had no manager, Glenn Hoddle had just left. Sunderland? Howard Wilkinson had been sacked, I’d never had any (correspondence) with them. Ireland? There was nobody there.”

With time on his hands this summer, McCarthy took the opportunity to concentrate on family in a way he previously never could.

Himself and Fiona recently enjoyed a few days in Venice to celebrate her 60th; they’ve spent much of the summer in Portugal with children and grandchildren; then, last Friday, they attended his niece, Sophie’s, wedding in The Cotswolds.

But football, he agrees, is “an addiction” and he’s aching for a return.

McCarthy says he’d “love” another crack at the Premier League, yet the idea of acquiring such a crack on anything but a shoestring is, he agrees, far-fetched.

“I don’t think I’ll get that,” he says of any notion that he might get a fairer opportunity than that presented to him after gaining promotion with, first, Sunderland and then, Wolves.

Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy in 2006

“I guess if I’d been promoted with Wolves this year, that would have been a completely different story,” he sighs. “I was at their first game and it was like night and day. Like my playing career at Manchester City compared to what City is now.

“Like my Wolves, we didn’t spend anything in the window. Well, we did, a chap from Iceland (Eggert Jonsson), got him from Hearts for £500,000. The thought was that the TV money was going to go down and it went from £1.3billion to £3billion. I think people forget we kept them up for two years.”

Is he, maybe, resentful that the marquee clubs would never cast an inquisitive glance his way?

“It does irk me slightly that they go looking everywhere else,” he concedes. “You know what, (Neil) Warnock’s done it for me last year. And however he’s done it, whatever football he plays, they (Cardiff) are in the Premier League.

“They get £100 million and all the revenue they get for full houses and everything else. He’s restored a little bit of kudos in our type, if you like. Lads who understand the game, get the best out of people, can build a squad, build a team, probably get promoted from a bit of adversity rather than having £50million or £60million like Wolves did.

“I think that may well have to be my route unless there’s a Premier League club who looks around and thinks ‘Do you know what, there is somebody who’s been a bit of a fire-fighter in the past’.

“Whatever they say about my teams, they are competitive and combative and organised. You know, I like to have fast, free-flowing football. But, if I haven’t, I make sure we don’t get beat.

“Which Moyesey (David Moyes) did at West Ham last year. He’s left and now they’re bottom of the League. We (Ipswich) finished twelfth last year with the nineteenth budget. And now they’re bottom of the league!”

McCarthy recently received what he calls a “lovely” message from the Kosovo-Albanian midfielder, Bersant Celina, who spent a season at Ipswich on loan from Manchester City, essentially thanking his former manager for “helping him to become a better person as much as a player”.

His loan spell with Ipswich earned Celina a £4million move to Swansea. “I think I’ve a history of helping players get better,” says McCarthy, whose total spend at Ipswich (£5.5 million) was far less than his total sales (£18.45 million).

But he is unmoved by any suggestion of “unfinished business” with Ireland now. “No, that’s not the case at all,” he stresses. “I feel I did a really good job here. I loved doing it, I was very proud doing it, but somebody else has got it now.”

Irish Independent

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