By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — There was no point in getting excited about the Republic’s 2-0 victory over Russia in last Wednesday’s international soccer friendly at Lansdowne Road. Even if winning is surely a good habit, as World Cup warmup games go, this was meaningless. Manager Mick McCarthy played one team for the first half, and then gradually introduced another for the second. It was a glorified training run.
Given that McCarthy has as many as 21 players of his 23 choices already selected for the finals, there isn’t much room for aspirants to stake their claim between now and early May.
“Twelve substitutes must be a record, but then a 45-minute man of the match must also be a record,” McCarthy said later, grinning. “The younger players have given me something to think about, definitely. What I do know is that the European championships are definitely there. Playing in a European qualifer in Moscow and playing in the World Cup finals in Japan are two very different things. I will continue to watch all the young players but they have got to keep playing first- team football.”
Against Russia, youngsters Steven Reid and Colin Healy made the most of their opportunities. Reid, who scored the first goal with a fine shot, could yet force his way into McCarthy’s thinking, but Healy is too much of a risk.
The Cork player, currently on loan from Celtic to Coventry, performed with real energy during the first half, bustling around midfield, making important tackles and looking a little like a poor man’s Roy Keane.
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However, midfield is where McCarthy is strongest at the moment, and when Keane, Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland are all challenging for places, the manager hardly needs someone like Healy. His is a name for the future.
“He’s in a situation where he has been sent out on loan and I’m sure Martin [O’Neill] has been watching him at Coventry,” McCarthy said. “Colin will be busting a gut to play to play football, but if he goes back to Celtic and the manager says there is nothing he can do, so be it. He should just enjoy these moments and see what happens. ”
The questions over Robbie Keane, who scored Ireland’s second goal with a superb header from Steve Finnan’s cross, are more complex. McCarthy came out after the game and suggested that his main striker should lose some weight and gain some fitness. Currently out of favor at his club Leeds, where he is regarded as the fourth striker in line, Keane may find it difficult to do what his manager wants.
There are additional games against Denmark in March, the U.S. in April, Sunderland for Niall Quinn’s testimonial, and then against Nigeria before the squad flies out to Japan in mid-May.