Mick McCarthy has said he’s happy with the weakest part of his team – central midfield.
The Republic of Ireland manager announced a 39-man provisional squad for the upcoming games against New Zealand and Denmark on Tuesday afternoon. McCarthy has named some uncapped players in the selection, with Ryan Manning and Troy Parrott the eye-catching inclusions.
At a pretty humdrum press conference in Dublin, there was one notable moment when McCarthy was asked about Jayson Molumby, the Ireland Under-21 captain.
Molumby is currently on loan at Millwall from Brighton and Hove Albion and has broken into the first-team at the Championship club. The 20-year-old started in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Stoke City. Molumby has also excelled for Ireland Under-21s. He has arguably been the standout player from Stephen Kenny’s side, the one from a very talented team who looks ready to make an instant impact at senior international level.
However, McCarthy has not called him up for the games in November – which is fine, that’s his prerogative as a manager, but his reasoning for doing so was strange, to say the least.
The Ireland manager admitted that Molumby was playing well, but he was “happy with my midfield options.”
McCarthy on Jayson Molumby: "He is playing well (with Millwall) but I'm happy with my midfield options. #COYBIG
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) October 29, 2019
He’s happy with his midfield options? Really?
Other than the inclusion of James McCarthy, these are the same midfield options that were available to the Ireland manager last month in the draw with Georgia and the defeat to Switzerland. The same midfield that did not make “one creative pass in the whole match” against the Swiss, according to Liam Brady. The former Ireland and Arsenal midfielder said this was an “indictment.”
“They’re professional footballers,” he said on RTÉ following the match, exasperated at the sight of Ireland’s midfield trio being overrun yet again.
McCarthy is “happy” with this midfield?
Glenn Whelan, a few months shy of his 36th birthday, was the team’s best midfielder in Geneva. Jeff Hendrick and Alan Browne were present but had no impact on the game. Between the three, they did not make one successful tackle. Whelan had more interceptions than Hendrick and Browne put together (2). Conor Hourihane did not even get on the pitch after starting every game of the campaign to that point. Jack Byrne sat in the stands, watching his teammates repeatedly lose the ball.
How can any manager be “happy” with this midfield? Well, the same manager said he was happy to draw with Georgia, a team ranked 91st in the world, below Syria and Haiti. He also said he would be happy with a draw against Switzerland, a result that would have meant nothing for Ireland’s chances of reaching Euro 2020 as they had to win. So, perhaps, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear McCarthy say he is content with a midfield that does not function.
Molumby would not change this on his own and it would be wrong to expect him to. But he certainly warranted inclusion in a bloated squad selection in a position where Ireland are weak. At the very least, his presence and personality might have sparked a reaction from the underperforming Ireland players in the position.
The 20-year-old Waterford-native has been a key player for Kenny’s Ireland Under-21 side. He is comfortable in possession, demands the ball in every phase of play, regardless of how many opponents are near him. An aggressive, intelligent midfielder, Molumby is also tireless worker, he ran himself into the ground in the goalless draw with Italy Under-21s in October and looked physically shattered when he was substituted off late in the game. He also keeps his teammates honest, demanding the best from them and leading by example.
Molumby is starting games at club level too, something McCarthy has claimed is a major factor in his selection decisions. However, none of this seemed to matter. The Ireland manager has made his picks and won’t change now. He is happy with a midfield that look like strangers and happy to overlook players who could improve the position and thus improve the team’s chances of reaching Euro 2020.
If Ireland are to reach the Euros, they will do so McCarthy’s way and in spite of the team’s misfiring midfield.