Contradictions are currency when it comes to Mick McCarthy of late.
On Thursday, the Republic of Ireland boss cut his 39-man squad down to 28, ahead of the upcoming friendly against New Zealand and crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark.
McCarthy included 17-year-old Tottenham prospect Troy Parrott, who has been all but guaranteed his chance against the All Whites, as well as Celtic’s Irish Under-21 defender Lee O’Connor.
It was who he didn’t include though, that stood out the most.
“Ryan is another player who could benefit from the fact that we play New Zealand just four days before the Euro qualifier against Denmark. I watched him again on Tuesday night and he is playing well in a very competitive QPR team who are well up there in the Championship.”
That was McCarthy’s take on QPR defender Ryan Manning a fortnight ago, on his weekly scouting report on the FAI’s official website.
On Thursday, the Irish manager dropped him from the 28-man squad, with a piece on QPR.co.uk explaining that he was in fact on standby for the upcoming games.
Manning started the season as a midfielder but was moved to left-back by manager Mark Warburton and the 23-year-old has excelled since his switch, starting every game in this Championship campaign.
The former Galway United man has notched up three assists and scored one goal this season, while his creative ability from his new position has seen him provide 2.2 key passes per game – the eight most out of every player in the division.
So, how does a promising young talent, in the best form of his career so far, not even warrant a place a 28-man Ireland squad? Especially when the squad contains a player who has featured once in 12 games in all competitions for his club this season – Burnley’s Kevin Long. And a player who has played a full 90 minutes just three times in a division below Manning – Alan Judge of Ipswich Town.
Had McCarthy simply included Manning in the provisional squad and then dropped him without name-checking him a couple of weeks ago, then perhaps his decision would have been met with more acceptance.
He is, after all, playing in a position occupied by one of Ireland’s finest performers this season, Enda Stevens.
The fact that he made the effort to single him out as a potential inclusion, only to then openly outline that Manning “as a left-back isn’t better than Enda Stevens” before dropping him to the standby list, is an incredible U-turn by McCarthy.
Manning is yet to win a single senior international cap, but he can operate at both left-back, left-midfield and in the centre of the park, while his deliveries are statistically among the best in the Championship (2nd for accurate crosses made, 7th for accurate corner kicks taken.)
New Zealand would have been the ideal time for McCarthy to rest Stevens, play Manning and ideally give himself a selection headache ahead of the Denmark game.
Speaking of Mick missing a trick, let’s move onto Jayson Molumby.
First, another McCarthy quote;
“The benefit of the friendly before the competitive game is that it allows me to try out a few things and give match time to players who need it.
“With Lee suspended for the first of the two Under-21 matches, this is the perfect opportunity to have a look at him in the friendly, introduce him to senior international football and see how he gets on. I’ve been impressed with him for the 21s and I know how important he is to them for that Sweden game so this is a win-win for all concerned.”
There’s nothing necessarily wrong in this from McCarthy, in fact, it’s actually a very smart move given O’Connor’s suspension and the Celtic man, based off his exploits with the Under-21s, is probably deserving of an opportunity.
But why, by that logic, is Ireland Under-21 captain Molumby not?
The 20-year-old also is suspended for Stephen Kenny’s side’s upcoming qualifier against Armenia, after picking up one too many yellows, and is, like O’Connor, free to play for the senior side if needed.
Again, not to knock O’Connor, but in this situation, Molumby is arguably far more deserving of a spot in McCarthy’s side given the fact that the on-loan Brighton man has featured eight times in the Championship for Millwall this season.
Since Gary Rowett’s appointment at The Den, Molumby’s form has improved. Against Stoke, in particular, he put in a performance which captivated Millwall fans and one that the Irish faithful have grown accustomed to seeing from the midfielder in his role with the Under-21s.
McCarthy though did not include Molumby in the provisional squad and when asked by Pundit Arena last week as to whether or not the Millwall man was considered, he responded:
“No, because I’m happy with my midfield players. They’ve been the pick of the bunch.”
Against Georgia and Switzerland, it’s evident that the midfield were far from, to use McCarthy’s own words, the pick of the bunch as they struggled, with only 35-year-old Glenn Whelan putting in an above-average display in Geneva.
Jeff Hendrick and Alan Browne lacked the cutting edge in the middle of the park against the Swiss, while Conor Hourihane’s display against Georgia saw him dropped for the game in Geneva altogether.
So often was the case across both games that the midfield shied away from the occasion, failing to have an impact going forward especially and almost letting the game go by without having any influence whatsoever.
Something that, if you’ve ever watched Molumby play, you’ll know is the antithesis of how he operates in the midfield.
For some quick context, let’s take a look at Alan Browne and Jeff Hendrick’s combined heatmap against Switzerland.
They totalled 94 touches between them, with most of their play coming inside their own half on the left-hand side, with very little action in positive areas of the park.
Note the Swiss penalty area and just outside of it (the support area if you will) and you’ll see little to no involvement from either player in those positions. An indication of the midfield’s recent inefficiency which, although only a snippet, makes McCarthy’s comments seem contradictory.
Molumby could be just the spark needed to reignite the sombre Irish midfield, and New Zealand could have been a chance for him to show McCarthy he is capable of, like Ryan Manning, giving the former Wolves manager at the very least a selection headache ahead of the game against Denmark.
Again though with Manning and Molumby not being involved, McCarthy has said one thing and done another, while missing a trick in the process.
For all involved it’s a glaringly obvious opportunity wasted.