By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — With the Republic of Ireland’s European Championship qualifying game against Yugoslavia now set for Belgrade next Wednesday, manager Mick McCarthy seems to have found a replacement for his precocious striker Robbie Keane.
The talented teenager is currently out of action following a cartilage operation, but his understudy, David Connolly, made a strong case for inclusion in McCarthy’s starting lineup by scoring four goals last weekend.
Connolly hit four in Wolves’ 6-1 win over Bristol City in the English First Division, while his likely attacking partner, Niall Quinn, also had cause to celebrate. Quinn bagged his 100th goal in English League soccer during Sunderland’s 3-1 success against Grimsby.
If that was the good news, McCarthy could be facing problems over the availability of some his players in advance of the game in Belgrade. The Irish manager doesn’t want any of his squad to play for their English clubs this weekend — he is entitled to make that demand under FIFA regulations — but a number of clubs have already indicated that they will not be prepared to release players until after Saturday’s round of Premiership matches.
Meanwhile, it is expected that as many as 1,000 Irish fans will be traveling to Belgrade against the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Even though the threat of NATO air strikes on the Yugoslav capital has been removed, the Department of Foreign Affairs has advised against any "non-essential travel" to Yugoslavia.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
McCarthy and his players make the journey on the back of two straight victories, against Croatia, who finished third in last summer’s World Cup, and Malta.
Meanwhile, the FAI have rearranged The Republic’s home game against Macedonia next year. It will now be played at Lansdowne Road on June 9. The original date of Oct. 10 clashed with a Rugby international at Lansdowne Road.