By Sean Creedon
Mick McCarthy will be hoping for a change of fortune when The Republic play their first senior game of the new Millennium against the Czech Republic at Lansdowne Road this evening (7.30 p.m. Irish time).
McCarthy has lost his two previous games against The Czechs, 2-0 in Prague in 1996 and 2-0 in Olomouc in 1998. In fact, Ireland has never beaten the new Czech state since their name change. In their last visit to Dublin in June 1994, they spoiled the going away World Cup party when winning 3-1 at Lansdowne.
Taking over as manager after Jack Charlton was an impossible task for any manager. To be fair, McCarthy, who was a great Irish captain, has done reasonably well, but I wish he would be honest enough to admit now and then that he has made mistakes. We all make them, every day of our lives, but Mick has never admitted to one in his four years and 37 games in charge. Some of Mick’s selections have been baffling, but then I suppose Big Jack rarely admitted a mistake until he wrote his autobiography.
Two years ago McCarthy introduced six new caps against the Czechs. This time the newcomers will be Paul Butler and Stephen McPhail. The manager has taken some criticism about the inclusion of Butler. The Sunderland defender does not even have a great great Irish grandmother, but qualifies through his Kildare-born wife.
Already there have been two withdrawals from the squad. Damien Duff and Rory Delap are out and so far McCarthy has called up only one player, Steve Finnan of Fulham.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
McCarthy’s plans to blood some new players in today’s friendly soccer international against the Czech Republic at Lansdowne Road have been hit by the defection of Leeds United midfielder, Stephen McPhail, writes Mark Jones.
The emerging McPhail will now miss the game against the world’s second ranked country because of a hamstring injury, while Damien Duff and Rory Delap have also had to drop out.
Gary Kelly may come in to fill one of the full-back berths made available by Denis Irwin’s retirement, while elsewhere McCarthy will be assured by the availability of Roy Keane, Niall Quinn and Robbie Keane.
The talented Czechs, who include the Liverpool pair of Patrick Berger and Vladimir Smicer, won each of their ten games en route to qualifying for this summer’s European championship finals.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Alan Kelly was named last weekend as the FAI’s international player of the year for 1999.
McIlroy in charge
Meanwhile, Sammy McIlroy takes charge of Northern Ireland for the first time in their away friendly against Luxembourg tonight (Feb 23). McIlroy has recalled Jim Magilton, who played only once under former manager Lawrie McMenemy.
But it’s the end of the road for striker Ian Dowie, who hit 15 goals in 59 appearances. Not the most talented of strikers, Dowie made up for his lack of skill, with some brave performances in the green shirt.
Kildare will have to plan without star midfielder Dermot Earley for the remainder of the National League programme. Earley, son of the former Roscommon star, injured his ankle in the recent League defeat by Fermanagh and will be out for at least six weeks. The Army man, who is currently completing an Engineering degree in Galway, will also miss the Sigerson Cup games.
And Laois will have to do without Brian `Beano’ McDonald for the remainder of the League campaign. The former star minor star broke his leg in a recent League game against Carlow and he now faces a race to be fit for his county’s opening game in the Leinster championship against Westmeath on June 4.
Former Irish international Timmy McCarthy is the temporary new manager of the Irish Men’s Basketball team. McCarthy, a Corkman, will be in charge until May when it’s expected that a full time post combining that of National Coach and Manager will be created.
No more testimonials
The FAI made one of its best-ever decisions last week when it announced that the days of testimonial games are over. So the joint benefit game for Steve Staunton and Tony Cascarino on May 21 will be the last. Now Irish supporters can keep their hard-earned money in their pocket and stop lining the pockets of well paid internationals.
The All-Ireland Club football and hurling finals will be played at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. There had been speculation that the finals might be played at separate venues because of a delay in the construction of the new Canal End stand in Croke Park. Both games will go ahead on the National Holiday, but it will be all-ticket event.