With Mick McCarthy celebrating his birthday and the start of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on the horizon, the excitement is building for the new Irish manager’s return to the helm of the Boys in Green.
McCarthy was in charge of Ireland from 1996 to 2002 and led one of Ireland’s finest ever group of players to a World Cup, providing a catalogue of highlights along the way.
Here, Pundit Arena looks at some of the very best moments from Mick McCarthy’s first spell in charge of Ireland.
A Debut For Robbie Keane & Damien Duff
Two of Ireland’s finest ever players, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were given their international debuts by Mick McCarthy in 1998 against the Czech Republic.
A friendly game towards the end of March, McCarthy gave the two future stars a chance from a very young age, as Ireland looked to get over the heartbreak of a World Cup playoff defeat and plan for the Euro 2000 qualifiers.
McCarthy’s willingness to take a risk on youth was a massive part of his success at the helm of the Boys in Green and the way he brought Duff and Keane in and transformed them into vital cogs in the team was excellent.
Ireland may have lost that particular game but the injection of youth served McCarthy well as his side impressed in the Euro 2000 qualifiers before narrowly missing out on a place in the finals thanks to the away goals rule.
Duff and Keane would go on to becoming two of the best players Ireland have ever produced, starring for their country for the next 15 years or so.
They have Mick McCarthy to thank for giving them their start way back in March of 1998.
Defeating The Much Fancied Dutch On Irish Soil
Still to this day one of the best results in recent memory, Ireland knew they needed a victory against European giants Holland if they were to stand any chance of qualification for the World Cup in 2002.
With Lansdowne Road packed to the rafters, McCarthy masterminded one of the finest displays in his six-year spell in charge of Ireland as the Boys in Green saw off Louis Van Gaal’s Holland.
Roy Keane’s early challenge on Marc Overmars could not have been more perfect to set the tone as the visitors were swiftly informed that they would be in for a battle against the Irish.
In the end, it was Jason McAteer’s second-half strike which would seal the priceless victory for Ireland, a result that was key to the Boys in Green reaching the playoffs and subsequently the World Cup finals in 2002.
Ireland have had some fantastic nights on home soil but there’s no doubt that the win against the Dutch in Landsdowne Road in September 2001 is one of the very finest.
Third Times A Charm As Playoff Heartbreak Ends
The massive win for Ireland against Holland towards the end of the qualifying campaign set the Boys in Green up beautifully for a World Cup playoff match, their third in the last three major tournaments.
The best runners up in the UEFA qualifying campaign Ireland met Iran in an inter-confederation play-off with the winners over two legs guaranteed a place in Korea and Japan.
Although Iran were a strong side, Ireland were able to exorcise their playoff demons by winning 2-0 at Lansdowne Road and despite a loss in Tehran, qualified for the World Cup with a 2-1 aggregate victory.
The two-legged triumph was huge for McCarthy and Ireland, whose unbeaten qualifying campaign and perceived “golden generation” of players meant that there was massive optimism heading into their first World Cup in 12 years.
Ireland Qualify For The Last 16 Of The World Cup
Yes, the talk of the World Cup group stages, from an Irish perspective, was predominantly centred around “Saipan” and McCarthy’s very public falling out with captain Roy Keane, but it’s important to remember the strong Irish performances on the pitch also.
In their first game, Ireland drew against a decidedly strong Cameroonian side although it was a game that McCarthy was unquestionably looking at all three points from with the challenge of Germany to come.
The German’s proved to be a tough task for Ireland as Miroslav Klose’s goal looked to be sending them towards a massive three points in the group before Robbie Keane struck late to rescue a massive point against one of the tournament’s most fancied teams.
Ireland comfortably dispatched of Saudi Arabia by 3-0 in their final group game to qualify for the last 16 and set up a clash with Spain, a game they unfortunately lost on penalties.
McCarthy’s men may have been incredibly unlucky to lose to Spain in the manner in which they did but their performances in the group deserve significant praise.
A major tournament overshadowed by controversy within the camp but one that proved to be arguably the most fruitful in the senior team’s history.