On Saturday against Gibraltar, Mick McCarthy will lead the Irish team out for the first time in 17 years as he returns for his second spell in charge of the Boys in Green.
A lot has changed since McCarthy left in 2002, but with the Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane regime done and dusted, there is an air of optimism among Irish fans ahead of this new era.
With that in mind, Pundit Arena takes a look at four burning questions ahead of Mick McCarthy’s first game back in charge of Ireland.
1) What Formation Will McCarthy Use?
An obvious one to start, but a question that has dominated much of the discussion leading up to the beginning of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
During his last tenure, McCarthy adopted a classic 4-4-2 formation but has previously outlined that it is unlikely he opts to deploy that in his second reign.
Martin O’Neill had been a fan of three at the back in his last year as Ireland manager and given their strength in defence and quality in the wing-back area, McCarthy may opt for a 5-3-2 also. Three centre-backs against Gibraltar, however, is far from a positive move.
The ex-Ipswich boss’ fondness for striker David McGoldrick may also have a significant impact on the starting XI. Should he start the Sheffield United man, then we might see a 4-4-1-1 wheeled out against Gibraltar.
McCarthy could also go for a more attacking 4-2-3-1, given the level of opposition, with the Aston Villa partnership of Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan acting as the “2” in midfield.
The slate is clean for McCarthy so the shape of his side may be the most intriguing questioning ahead of the game in Gibraltar.
2) Will He Be Able To Fit Seamus Coleman & Matt Doherty Into The Same Team?
“Only if I play two right-backs!” has been McCarthy’s stock response to this question over the last couple of weeks, but the new boss will likely have to set up his side to accommodate both.
Similar to the formation question above, there’ll be intrigue surrounding where and perhaps more importantly if, he plays Doherty and Coleman together.
The Everton defender hasn’t been in the best of form this season but given his level of performance in the green of Ireland along with the fact that he’s still the captain means that McCarthy will have to find a place for him.
Doherty’s performances in the Premier League this season speak for themselves and the Wolves man is Ireland’s most in-form player. He simply must start.
There are a number of options available to McCarthy; he could start Coleman right-back and push Doherty further up the right-hand side given his attacking prowess.
McCarthy could start Coleman right-back and Doherty left-back but given the form of Enda Stevens, that’s an unlikely course of action.
The best option could be playing Coleman as a third centre-back, a la Kyle Walker with England, and giving Doherty his more natural position of right-wing back in a 5-3-2.
He may also just play one or the other, but it’s difficult to see that happening.
3) Can McCarthy Solve Ireland’s Goalscoring Issues?
In 2018 during Martin O’Neill’s final year in charge of the Boys in Green, Ireland managed just four goals in 12 months, with no player scoring more than once.
McCarthy’s toughest job may be bringing goals back to a side that was desperately lacking in firepower over the last year.
The former Ipswich boss does have the boost of a fit-again Sean Maguire, who will no doubt be keen to kick-start his international career following a difficult 12 months.
He has also drafted David McGoldrick back into the squad following his 12 goals in the Championship this season with Sheffield United.
Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien was the only striker in the squad to score last year and he has performed quite well whenever he has worn the green of Ireland, but it’s Luton Town’s James Collins who could be the wildcard for McCarthy.
In his first ever Irish senior squad, Collins has been in tantalising form in front of goal in League One this season and the confidence at which he is playing at could see him take a chance should he win a cap for the Boys in Green.
4) Will This Irish Side Be As Easy On The Eye As His Team From 17 Years Ago?
Another question that probably boils down to formation and setup but it will be incredibly hard for McCarthy’s men in 2019 to emulate the style of McCarthy’s men in 2002.
For a start, the likes of Damien Duff and Robbie Keane are long gone from the setup, with the current crop of players a promising one, but not quite as talented as the one he developed in the late 90s and early 2000s.
This time around McCarthy also has the caveat of a limited amount of time in charge as well as one single goal to achieve; qualification for the European Championships in 2020.
He doesn’t have the time to nurture and develop a young promising side knowing that he will soon have that snatched away from him by the incoming Stephen Kenny.
McCarthy also outlined midweek that style is not something he is overly concerned about and that his main goal is simply about getting results, regardless of how they might come about.
Understandably, it will be hard to be as negative as a couple of regimes before him were at times, however, it would be naive to think that a “Total Football” style of play will be imposed on this squad in the space of a week.