By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Republic of Ireland soccer manager Mick McCarthy was up in arms over his team’s preparation for today’s vital European championship qualifying game against Yugoslavia in Belgrade. Instead of having his squad together for a full five days before the match, McCarthy spent much of last weekend wondering if any of his key players would be injured while playing for their clubs.
Normally, there are no club fixtures in Britain in the lead-up to European championship or World Cup games, but because the Ireland-Yugoslavia tie had to be re-fixed following unrest in the province of Kosovo, most of McCarthy’s squad were on duty last Saturday.
However, under FIFA regulations, the manager was entitled to seek the release of his players from club duties five days before an international fixture. Understandably anxious that the likes of Roy Keane, Niall Quinn or Denis Irwin would pick up injuries, McCarthy demanded that his players put country before club.
The clubs refused any releases — although Keane and Irwin were picked as substitutes by Manchester United — and when McCarthy asked FIFA to intervene, world soccer’s governing body bizarrely ruled that the clubs should have precedence, a position which completely contradicted its own regulations.
The upshot of FIFA’s controversial decision, which prompted fierce criticism from the Football Assoiciation of Ireland, was that 14 of McCarthy’s squad were involved in competitive games last Saturday and three were injured.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Ian Harte, who was favored for the left back berth, damaged his foot in Leeds’ 3-1 victory over Liverpool and was immediately ruled out, while Mark Kinsella and David Connolly were still doubtful as the party was leaving for Belgrade.
"This is what we dreaded when FIFA made the decision," McCarthy said, "but we’ll just have to get on with the job and make the best of what we’ve got." At one stage the injury situation was looking so bad, that Andy Townsend offered to come out of retirement, but in the end, Middlesbrough’s fullback, Curtis Fleming, was the only late call-up.
With Harte injured, Kinsella and Connolly doubtful and Robbie Keane ruled out earlier in the month, the best McCarthy can realistically hope for today is a draw. In fact, that would be as good as a result as the previous two victories over Croatia and Malta.