Conor Hourihane is set to start for the Republic of Ireland at left-back against Bulgaria.
Enda Stevens, Ireland’s first-choice left-back, is suspended for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia next month after picking up a yellow card in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland last Thursday.
Ahead of that game, Mick McCarthy namechecked James McClean as an option at left-back. However, the Ireland manager will instead ask midfielder Hourihane to play in the position in the friendly at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night.
Speaking to reporters at Abbottstown on Monday, McCarthy said that the game offers a chance to give Hourihane some much-needed playing time. The Aston Villa midfielder started the club’s first game of the season – a 3-1 loss away to Tottenham Hotspur. But he has only started one match in the EFL Cup since losing his spot to summer signing Douglas Luiz.
“Conor Hourihane is playing left-back tomorrow,” McCarthy said.
“Wonderful left foot, hasn’t he? Wouldn’t it be amazing if he played left-back tomorrow and everybody goes, ‘oh wow’. And if he doesn’t, there’s nothing ventured, nothing gained. But he’s one of those who has not been playing, and I’d like him to have some more minutes. He’ll be playing.”
The Ireland boss also spoke about Hourihane’s attributes as a player and how he is suited to playing in the position, despite being a midfielder by trade.
McCarthy sees the game as a free-hit and the 28-year-old could turn out to be another option in the position for the game against Georgia next month.
“He’s a very intelligent player, that’s for sure. He has a wonderful left-foot, if we can get him further up the pitch, get him so he can deliver crosses, then we should get a bit of joy out of that.
“We’ll see whether he can – depending on who’s up against him – if he’s got a flying winger, can he deal with it? But, he’s got to get 90-minutes and he might not get many more between now and next month. So, at least I’ll have had a look at him and see that, it might be another string to his bow.”
Plymouth lost the game 1-0 but managed to retain their league status due to results elsewhere.
Yet, McCarthy has no doubts about Hourihane’s ability to perform in the position as he is a “senior international footballer.”
“I spoke to him yesterday about it. Absolutely (he’s confident). It’s also my job not to give him any doubts about it. He’s got all the tools to play there, that’s for sure. What is he, six-foot? He’s competitive enough, he’s got a great left-foot. If you’re trying to play out from the back then, we do, he can certainly play from there.
“He’s a central midfield player, he has to track runners, he has to defend from that position. Are there finer nuances? Of course, there are. But, wouldn’t it be great if he turned out, and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘oh I’ve got one who can play there’.
“That’s the reason for the game,” he continued. “You’re asking me about trying others, 21s who I would never know whether they’d come in and compete and play. I’ve got a senior international footballer, who is actually an international footballer who is looking forward to playing there.”
McCarthy also spoke about other Irish left-backs who could be part of his plans for the qualifier next month against Georgia – such as Stephen Ward, who announced his retirement from international football back in March, and Greg Cunningham, who has won eight caps for Ireland.
Ward is currently playing for Stoke City, while Cunningham is playing for Blackburn Rovers on loan from Cardiff City. Ryan Manning, who has been in impressive form for Queens Park Rangers, was not mentioned by McCarthy and does not appear to be in his plans.
Matt Doherty is another player who could be used in the left-back position for Ireland. He was the most in-form Irish player last season, impressing for Wolverhampton Wanderers as a right wing-back. However, he has found opportunities hard to come by at international level, with McCarthy preferring captain Seamus Coleman at right-back.
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Matt Doherty could finally get another chance in the Ireland team 👍🇮🇪 Mick McCarthy has said he is an option to play at left-back against Georgia next month 👉 “He had about two seasons playing at left-back for Wolverhampton Wanderers, so of course, he's a consideration. Let's hope he's fit and his knee's okay."
Doherty, who is not part of the current squad due to a knee injury, could get his opportunity at left-back next month, with McCarthy stating that playing on the opposite flank will be no issue for him.
“He’s been a full-back all his life. So, just the fact he hasn’t played there (recently) doesn’t mean he loses the ability to play that position,” the Ireland boss said.
“He had two really successful seasons at it. No, I wouldn’t be concerned about it at all. He’s a full-back and he can play either side. I think if you asked Seamus to play at left-back, I don’t think it’d bother him either. It might be difficult if he’s putting balls up (the line) with his left foot. But they’re good enough to come inside and play. He’d be fine, and you know what, they just have to get on with it and do it.”