The Republic of Ireland are heading into a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia on Saturday afternoon, and Switzerland away next Tuesday, without two key players.
Mick McCarthy’s side only have three games remaining in Group D, and the trip to Tbilisi looks like a must-win tie. However, Ireland look set to be without two stalwarts from the Euro 2020 qualification campaign so far – David McGoldrick and Shane Duffy, who are both attempting to return to fitness after injury.
Both players have been guaranteed starters under McCarthy. Duffy rescued a valuable point with a header in the 1-1 draw with Denmark in June. And McGoldrick got the goal when Ireland drew 1-1 with Switzerland last month.
However, while they’re in a race to get fit and weren’t named in the 24-man squad last week, McCarthy hasn’t given up hope of the pair featuring against Georgia on Saturday or Switzerland in Geneva next Tuesday. The Ireland manager, speaking to the media on Monday at FAI HQ in Abbottstown, said he would give the pair until the last minute to make themselves available for selection.
“I think they have (a chance to play). I got a message from Shane earlier on, he’s feeling good,” McCarthy said.
“He didn’t say he was fully fit or ready to go, just that he’s feeling good. He’s optimistic. I haven’t spoken to Didsy (McGoldrick) for a while, for a couple of days. But Chris Wilder mentioned that they’re doing everything they can to get him fit. I’ll wait as long as I can.”
“I just told Shane, I responded to his message, I said, ‘the plane’s leaving at 2 o’clock from Dublin airport to Tbilisi (on Thursday) so we’ll keep a seat with extra legroom for you, as we normally do, don’t be late.
“Didsy, he’s been on the grass, he’s been training. As I said, I’m far more optimistic about them being involved. But, you know, if they don’t come to Tbilisi, they can get a flight to Geneva and we’ll see them there if they’re fit for that game.”
McCarthy also spoke about the team’s options at left-back. The Ireland manager will be without Enda Stevens for the match against Georgia, as the Sheffield United full-back is suspended. Greg Cunningham picked up an injury at the weekend playing for Blackburn. Ryan Manning has impressed for Queens Park Rangers but has not been included in the squad.
The Ireland boss namechecked Matt Doherty, who has played at left-back in the past for Wolves, and Blackburn’s Derrick Williams, as options at left-back for the tie in Tbilisi.
“Greg Cunningham was in contention but got a nasty knee injury,” McCarthy said.
“The Doc (Doherty) played, we know he’s played at left-back so, they’re my options. Of course, Derrick Williams is in, he’s a left-sided player. If the other lads that don’t come in, it’s not about them. It’s about the lads who come in and play.
“I don’t have to see Matt Doherty play at full-back. I mean, there’s been enough people screaming for him to play so he might get his chance at left-back. We don’t have many options, of course. Derrick Williams who can play there, but he sees himself as a left-sided centre-back, that’s his best position.”
McCarthy said James McClean was “possibly” an option at left-back, but there was no chance of Conor Hourihane playing in the position as he is needed in his natural position.
The Aston Villa midfielder played left-back for Ireland against Bulgaria in a friendly last month, as the Ireland manager wanted to give him some playing time. Hourihane has since regained his place in the Villa team and scored in their 5-1 win over Norwich City on Saturday.
James McCarthy started for Crystal Palace on Saturday in their 2-1 win over West Ham. However, McCarthy said the upcoming games have come too soon for the midfielder, who has not played much football since suffering an awful double leg-break in January 2018.
Mick says James McCarthy isn't on standby to join up with the squad.
"He said himself that he hadn't played any games. He was probably surprised to play (at the weekend)… I prefer to talk about the ones who are here."#COYBIG
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) October 7, 2019
Ireland are two points clear at the top of Group D after five games played with 11 points. Denmark are in second place with nine points from five matches and Switzerland are in third, with eight points from four games.
Georgia are second from bottom in the group, with four points from five games. McCarthy’s side beat them 1-0 back in March, but Georgia held Denmark to a draw in Tbilisi last month.
"He's very quick, he's very direct and he takes people on. His movement is very good. He plays with personality and he's got a bit of aggression in him."
McCarthy on what Aaron Connolly could bring to the Ireland team 🇮🇪👊
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) October 7, 2019