By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Once again, the center of the defense has been causing Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy a few headaches in the build-up to today’s friendly game against Paraguay at Lansdowne Road. With the rest of the team now having a settled look about it, McCarthy’s has to choose a defensive partner for Kenny Cunningham.
While Paraguay are not expected to provide top-quality opposition, the Irish need to improve radically at the back before they return to the business of qualifying for the European championship finals against Macedonia next month.
Gary Breen’s stock has fallen since Ireland’s loss to Yugoslavia at the end of last year and McCarthy may now be considering Liverpool’s Phil Babb. Ian Harte has looked out of place in the middle of the back four and Gary Kelly’s absence through injury for the rest of the season limits the options.
Elsewhere, the line-up appears predictable with Shay Given in goal and the experience of Denis Irwin and Steve Staunton at full-back. Roy Keane, Mark Kinsella, Damien Duff and Jason McAteer should make up the midfield, with Niall Quinn and Robbie Keane in attack.
Meanwhile, the "Find Another Irishman" (FAI) campaign reached new heights (lows?) with the news last week that Sunderland’s Paul Butler had been named to the Irish "B" squad to play a League of Ireland selection. Butler, who was born in Manchester, qualifies for Wales through his grandparents, but he opted for The Republic because he has been married to an Irish women for more than three years.