By Mark Jones
Ireland 0, Turkey 0
DUBLIN — The scuffle involving Tony Cascarino, a couple of Turkish players and several supporters that broke out at the end of Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in Bursa deflected for a while from the harsh reality of Ireland’s failure to qualify for the finals of yet another major soccer championship.
Newspaper photographs of riot police and Cascarino’s bloodied lip grabbed the attention the day after the game which killed off hopes of Mick McCarthy’s team grabbing one of the coveted places at next year’s European championship finals.
But while the Irish had undoubtedly found themselves in a difficult qualifying group, which included heavyweights such as Yugoslavia and Croatia, the focus should never have been on a small outbreak of hostilities. It should in fact have been on McCarthy’s dubious track record over the last year.
If bad luck entered the equation at times — McCarthy said in Turkey he was thinking of changing his name to Lucky by deed poll — the manager’s contention that his team were robbed of qualification by one or two cruel bounces of the ball simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
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The 0-0 result in Bursa wasn’t enough to make up for giving Turkey a precious away goal in the first of the playoff games at Lansdowne Road.
"We didn’t lose over the two matches," was typical McCarthy rationale.
In reality, the Irish defensive cock-up in Dublin was no worse than the performance last week. The Turks were by far the better side and they controlled the exchanges.
Victories over Yugoslavia and Croatia at Lansdowne Road were the high points of the qualifying campaign and there were moments when McCarthy came across as a progressive and even innovative coach. However, once Ireland hit the
road, his innate conservatism replaced any tactical appreciation.
Four days after the best performance in the group, a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia, McCarthy radically changed his approach for the game in Croatia. Already without the services of Roy Keane and Denis Irwin, he inexplicably left out Robbie Quinn, Niall Quinn, Kevin Kilbane and Mark Kennedy in favor of a defensive formation.
The Irish lost to a late goal by Davor Suker when a more positive approach would surely have secured a draw at least. Equally, he made several bizarre substitutions with his team leading 1-0 in the vital match in Macedonia. Keith O’Neill, the inexperienced Matt Holland and Cascarino were brought on in the closing stages and Macedonia scored in injury time.
On top of those errors, McCarthy chose to persist with the patently out-of-form Steve Staunton throughout the campaign. More remarkably, the aging Cascarino was involved in nine out of 10 of the qualifying games. Quite why the manager stuck by a 37-year-old when David Connolly was available is anybody’s guess.
The once promising international coach seems now to have run out of ideas. Given how committed McCarthy had been as a player, it was strange how unmotivated his team appeared in Bursa.
Still, even before the playoffs, he had negotiated a new contract that takes him up to the end of the World Cup qualifying games in 2001. Nice work on the back of another failure.