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Ireland MUST choose Mick McCarthy over Stephen Kenny for Euro 2021

Extra.ie logo Extra.ie 26/03/2020 Philip Quinn
© Sportsfile

In his ‘stay safe’ message to Ireland fans on Monday night, which touched all the right notes, Mick McCarthy appeared to convey a subtle communication to his FAI employers.

The Republic of Ireland manager made a point of saying how he ‘should have been on the training ground at Abbotstown with the players today, getting ready for Slovakia’.

From this remove, it was a reminder that McCarthy is very much the team manager, and the Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia is very much his baby, whenever it’s played.

In an ordinary world that would have been tomorrow in Bratislava, a game now deferred until June 4, a date that FAI chiefs agree is no more than ‘aspirational’.

a group of people wearing military uniforms: Mick McCarthy should be in the dugout if Ireland qualify for Euro 2021. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Mick McCarthy should be in the dugout if Ireland qualify for Euro 2021. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Unless the brakes are applied, the prospects of the play-off going ahead in early June — even behind closed doors — are very, very, slim. All it takes is one person associated with any player, any member of staff or any official to have the illness and the game can’t be played.

UEFA will sit tight for the moment, as they have bought themselves some time, but if I was an Ireland supporter, I wouldn’t be making any plans for a Slovakia trip this side of the August Bank Holiday. More likely, we’re looking at a September encounter with the Slovaks.

Taking McCarthy’s comments on face value on Monday night, the play-off is his gig.

Whether it happens in March, June, September or even Christmas Day, that’s his next match as the manager. By finishing third in the qualifiers, he’s taken HIS team to the play-offs. And if they win, it’s HIS team that will contest the play-off final. And if they win again, it’s HIS team that will qualify for the finals.

Niall Quinn et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: It is a decision Niall Quinn and co. must get right. Pic: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile © Provided by Extra.ie It is a decision Niall Quinn and co. must get right. Pic: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

McCarthy’s contract with the FAI specifies he stays in charge for the duration of Ireland’s involvement in the Euro 2020 Championships, after which he hands over to Stephen Kenny.

Those championships now have ‘Euro 2021’ in front of them, which nobody saw coming, and the implications of this need to be addressed by the FAI hierarchy. The Holy Trinity of the FAI, chairman Roy Barrett, CEO Gary Owens and interim CEO Niall Quinn are intelligent men who recognise the mayhem around them.

In the sporting world, the 2020 football schedule has become irrelevant as Leagues and Cups across Europe are shelved. The last game in the Premier League was played on March 9. The next may be three months away — or six. Nobody knows.

On home turf, contracts are being ripped up and redrawn because of this pandemic. Staff and players at a cluster of League of Ireland clubs have been let go because there is no money to pay them. Some clubs are digging deep to keep management and players on side, but for how long? The mid-June restart is an optimistic pipe-dream.

a man holding a frisbee: Stephen Kenny has been outstanding with the Ireland U21s. Pic: Sportsfile © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Stephen Kenny has been outstanding with the Ireland U21s. Pic: Sportsfile

At some point soon, the FAI chiefs must resolve the McCarthy-Kenny handover situation. It’s not one of their making, but it’s one they can solve, just as they have done with the financial issues they inherited from the previous regime. And it can be done in a sensible, level-headed, way.

Rather than wait for UEFA’s next update on the Euro play-offs — a further deferral to late June is the next step — the FAI has to show leadership, fairness and integrity, and act now.

They need to sit down with McCarthy, Kenny and their representatives, and come to an arrangement that is agreeable to all.

From the press boxes, I’d welcome the FAI hierarchy reaffirming McCarthy as Irish manager for as long as the senior international team is involved in the current European Championship.

Mick McCarthy wearing a hat and sunglasses: Mick McCarthy lis deserving os seeing this campaign out. Pic: TF-Images/Getty Images © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Mick McCarthy lis deserving os seeing this campaign out. Pic: TF-Images/Getty Images

The FAI should add that, if the Euro play-offs are successfully negotiated, McCarthy would continue as manager for the Nations League in the autumn, and Kenny as Ireland Under 21 manager, where he has done such an outstanding job.

If Kenny, Brian Kerr, Stephen Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni or Martin O’Neill were in the same situation, I would advocate a similar approach.

As for Kenny, whose contract with the FAI was signed based on a 2020 summer handover, there has to be some pay-back for waiting that bit longer for the senior job, as seems to be inevitable now.

He should be given a contract to run until the end of Ireland’s participation in the 2024 European Championships, embracing the 2022 World Cup and the 2022/23 Nations League.

This can all be bagged and tagged in the coming weeks and announced by Owens with McCarthy and Kenny at his flank.

As it is, there’s a vacuum of uncertainty around the Ireland senior manager’s position, which does nobody any favours.

Gallery: The 30 best Irish players right now (FourFourTwo)

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