Ireland picked up a 3-1 victory Bulgaria thanks to goals from Alan Browne, Kevin Long and in a largely forgettable game at the Aviva Stadium.
McCarthy’s side took the lead thanks to a goal from Browne early in the second half after Scott Hogan followed up Ronan Curtis’s effort to find the Preston man unmarked.
Bulgaria though grabbed an equaliser through an Ivelin Popov penalty after John Egan had brought down Bozhidar Kraev in the Irish box.
The Boys in Green grabbed a second however thanks to a Kevin Long header in the 83rd minute of the game before James Collins found the third with three minutes to go.
Here are five comprehensive conclusions as Ireland defeat Bulgaria in Dublin.
1) The Conor Hourihane At Left-Back Experiment Shouldn’t Be Run Again
The decision was perhaps rightfully met with raised eyebrows by many and although Hourihane had little to do defensively, his lack of knowledge surrounding the position was clear.
Hourihane has a good delivery from the left, but pace isn’t a part of his game and on a number of occasions he just didn’t have the speed to reach a pass on the overlap.
With Stevens absent for the Georgia game you’d worry if he starts and comes up against any sort of speedy winger he could struggle massively.
It isn’t necessarily a knock on the player, he can only play where the manager wants him to, even if he’s only ever done it once – for Plymouth against Rochdale in 2013.
It was an experiment McCarthy could afford to run but one he shouldn’t continue with.
2) Josh Cullen Deserves A Chance In A Qualifier
In a first half that was as bland as bland can be from an Irish perspective, Josh Cullen in the middle of the park was a bright spark.
On his debut in green, Cullen was energetic and got on the ball frequently, looking like one of few players, who was actually playing with the intention of impressing McCarthy.
Cullen will no doubt have been buoyed by his excellent start to life in the Championship with Charlton Athletic, and his performance in the middle of the park was composed and comfortable.
The 23-year-old didn’t look nervous on his international debut and showed a lot more desire than many of the more experienced midfielders around him.
One of the few players who arguably played their way into contention rather than out of it tonight.
3) There Is Simply No Way Scott Hogan Is A Better Option Than Any Of The Irish U21 Strikers
Having seen Troy Parrott and Aaron Connolly run an impressive Swedish side ragged just hours earlier it was hard to believe those two didn’t deserve a spot in the senior side.
Watching Scott Hogan against Bulgaria made it even harder.
The Stoke City man has failed to really impress in any of his seven appearances in green, including this one, and despite having certain strong qualities (pace, workrate) isn’t at the level required for international football.
Yes the situation dictates that the younger players sticking with the 21s for a qualifier is more beneficial than playing in a friendly for the seniors but there will be no change in the qualifiers.
McCarthy can be loyal to a fault to certain players and unfortunately Hogan is one of them.
The Irish strike force needs an injection of new blood soon and based on tonight’s performances it’s difficult to see how Hogan retains his place in the squad.
4) Jack Byrne’s Cameo Was A Positive
The Shamrock Rovers man deserved his chance against Bulgaria and after coming on in the 65th minute he looked comfortable in the midfield area.
After starting off passing safe, he grew into the game and began finding his range as Ireland began to find the front foot.
Byrne’s deliveries were very good, with his corner being met by the head of Kevin Long for the second goal and he also found Enda Stevens on left for James Collins’ debut goal.
He got amongst it and crucially wanted the ball at every exchange as he showed that international football is not a level above him.
It’s unlikely McCarthy starts him or even brings him off the bench for the upcoming qualifiers but the Rovers man was a strong reminder that the talent domestically can show promise at this level.
5) Very Few Players Put Themselves Into Contention Ahead Of Three Crucial Qualifiers
A home friendly against a decidedly poor Bulgarian side represented little more than the chance for a host of squad players to put themselves into contention ahead of the upcoming qualifiers against Georgia, Switzerland and Denmark.
McCarthy has been notoriously loyal to a host of his players so far in qualifying but you’d like to think that had fringe members of the squad stood out they would’ve out themselves into the Irish bosses plans for the crucial games next month.
The problem was so very few stood out.
Alan Browne grabbed a goal yes, but so often played the ball sideways instead of forwards, Callum O’Dowda started off the game in lively fashion attacking his full-back but the game soon passed him by.
This was the case with a host of fringe players with Cullen, Byrne and Collins, to an extent, arguably the only players to have taken his chance when given a start.
In all honesty it’s unlikely that McCarthy strays too far from the norm when they travel to Tbilisi to face Georgia, but tonight’s game will have almost certainly confirmed that.
For many it was a chance wasted.