Not surprisingly, in the wake of a Mick McCarthy’s calamitous last few months in charge, he has inherited a difficult situation. Beaten 4-2 by Russia in Moscow in the first qualifying match, and then more disastrously beaten again by group leaders Switzerland 2-1 at Lansdowne Road in the second, qualification for those finals in Portugal next year is already looking like a lost cause.
So, with Georgia the opponents this weekend, and then Albania in Tirana next Wednesday, Kerr simply has to take a maximum of four points — a draw and a win — from the games to keep Ireland slim chances alive. Anything less, and he can start to build a new team for the 2006 World Cup.
Neither Georgia nor Albania are in the same class as the Irish, as evidenced by the convincing 2-0 victory over Scotland in Kerr’s first game in charge, but picking up points on the road has always been difficult no matter who the opposition is.
With the English club season in full swing, Kerr has already lost Jason McAteer, Gary Kelly and Clinton Morrison through injury, and there are doubts over Steve Finnan and Robbie Keane, who has only played once in the last six weeks following a knee ligament problem. Equally, Matt Holland and Mark Kinsella, the midfield pair which performed so magnificently at last year’s World Cup finals following Roy Keane’s controversial retirement, have failed to reproduce anything like that form this season.
However, Kerr has an ultra-reliable goalkeeper in Shay Given, and a defense that will include John O’Shea, Stephen Carr and Kenny Cunningham. Midfield is more problematic now, but Holland will start and may be partnered by Kinsella or Colin Healy, with Damien Duff and Steven Reid deployed out wide.
With Robbie Keane also likely to start, Gary Doherty is now almost certain to be his attacking partner in the absence of Morrison. For Kerr and Ireland, Saturday is the start of a new era.
Highly rated AC Milan fullback Kakha Kaladze and Dundee FC defender Zurab Khizanishvili were two notable inclusions in coach Alexandre Chivadze’s George side that will do battle with Ireland on Saturday.
The Georgians are bottom in Group 1-0 after losing their only completed match, 4-1 away to Switzerland.