All indications are that Republic soccer manager Mick McCarthy will not be long for his job, if not as a result of being cut loose by the FAI, then almost certainly as a result of a decision to fall on his own sword.
Already, the talk around Dublin’s barstools is about who should step into his shoes rather than whether or not they fit him any more.
The last straw came last Wednesday when, with their 2-1 victory at Lansdowne road, Switzerland delivered a wrecking-ball into the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2004 ambitions and cast a gigantic shadow over the future of the longest serving international manager in Europe.
Back-to-back defeats has left Ireland miles off the pace in Group 10 as Russia and Switzerland disappear over the horizon in the direction of sunny Portugal.
Wednesday’s winner came courtesy of Fabio Celestini, who crashed the ball past goalkeeper Shay Given in the 87th minute.
It shouldn’t have turned out like this. People still have this notion that a manager has to shoulder more blame when things go wrong than credit when things go right. Players, on the other hand, can get away pretty much free when they turn in a bad day at the office. Hence, Kevin Kilbane and Ian Harte are dodging bullets right now, while McCarthy is taking shrapnel at every turn. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to take much more.
Any time over the years when the subject of his tenure has come up, he has repeated two phrases. Judge me on results, he said. When the fans tell me it’s time to go, I’ll go, he said. Well, his last two results have been atrocious. Bad defeats against bad teams (way worse than anything Ireland encountered during the World Cup, the Saudis apart). And as sure as thunder follows lightning, the results have led to the fans telling him it’s time to go. To hear the chants of “Keano, Keano” and the boos as he made his way from the dugout to the dressing room was a sad experience.
And that’s all that’s left here. Sadness. Nobody wanted to see McCarthy’s life with the Irish soccer team end like this. After all, it’s been 18 years since he first pulled on a green jersey, 18 years where he’s become one of the best loved men ever to set foot in this country. Now, as the clock ticks down, he’s one of the most reviled.
Predictably, McCarthy refused to walk away from the fight. “I have a thick skin and a brass neck and I’ve no intention of going anywhere yet,” he said defiantly moments after the loss.
On Wednesday, the Swiss were worth their win as they were more creative than the lumbering Irish, who needed an own goal to draw level 12 minutes from time.
A half hour into the game, McCarthy had Damien Duff switch places with Kevin Kilbane, not the most likely choice for center-forward. He chose to do so because Ireland were struggling to make inroads against the Swiss, organized and technically comfortable.
Ireland’s first shot on goal didn’t arrive until the 12th minute and wasn’t exactly worth waiting for as Matt Holland’s 20-yard drive fizzed over the bar. Soon after, Robbie Keane was unsighted as he strove to make contact with Ian Harte’s delivery and the ball squirted wide.
Aware the Irish were at odds with themselves, the Swiss grew in confidence as the half progressed. A minute before halftime, Alexander Frei was fouled by Kenny Cunningham and they were punished. Murat Yakin lofted the ball behind the Irish defense, his brother Hakan stole a yard on Matt Holland and lobbed the ball over Shay Given.
The Irish plundered an equalizer when Harte’s free bounced off the knee of Ludovic Magnin, under pressure from Breen, but the final act on a forgettable night arrived seconds after McCarthy had withdrawn Harte for Gary Doherty. With no left-back in place, the wily Stephane Chapuisat calmly placed Celestini for a deserving winner.
Now is about the next man in. Ireland don’t have time for mourning, there’s a campaign to be rescued. The word round the campfire is that they would like Brian Kerr. The FAI will give him the job in due course — say, the day after hell freezes over. Despite Kerr’s sterling work with Ireland’s youth, he’s burned too many bridges in Merrion Square to seriously have a chance. Other hats in the ring include Joe Kinnear’s, John Aldridge’s, Martin O’Neill’s and Ronnie Whelan’s.
Whoever rides into town, one of the most important things he’ll learn from McCarthy’s reign is how to read the signs and how to work out how long your welcome lasts.