Football

McCarthy Stresses Form, But Will He Practice What He Preaches In Irish Midfield?

McCarthy Stresses Form, But Will He Practice What He Preaches In Irish Midfield?

One of the issues that has plagued Ireland throughout their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is the lack of consistency in midfield. The middle third of the pitch has not provided the type of attacking output that is required for winning performances against decent opposition.

There have been some flashes of promise. Glenn Whelan has performed well in a holding midfield role, not looking like a player who just turned 36-years old. Conor Hourihane has stroked the ball around nicely on a couple of occasions, even if he does have the propensity to go missing in games.

Jeff Hendrick has been wildly inconsistent, but some of that may have to do with the lack of consistency in terms of his role in the team. It was difficult to judge Alan Browne based on the couple of opportunities he was given late in the campaign.

What we do know is that midfield has been the biggest problem in this campaign. Ireland have long been criticised for their inability to retain possession, something that manifests itself from that part of the pitch.

The defence has been more capable on the ball than in previous campaigns, with Enda Stevens and John Egan a major help in this regard. Sheffield United are fantastic at keeping the ball, something that pair excel at.

The same can be said of David McGoldrick, another one of Chris Wilder's players. The issue is that he is often left far too isolated up front. There is only so much he can do when asked to hold off a multitude of opposition defenders.

Again, this is an issue that comes from the middle third. Our midfielders often sit far too deep, which often results in long hopeful balls over the top and a lack of support to the lone striker.

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Luckily for Mick McCarthy, there are a couple of players who are in fine form at the moment who could ease those issues. There is a big gap in terms of experience between the pair, but both have a strong case to be in the starting XI for the trip to Slovakia in March.

James McCarthy is a player who is very familiar to Ireland fans. He has 41 caps for his country, but has still become somewhat of a forgotten man in that Irish midfield. That hasn't really been his fault, with the 29-year old being plagued by injury problems in recent years.

He is now becoming difficult to ignore. McCarthy has experienced a major renaissance at Crystal Palace over the last few weeks. Having used the first half of the campaign to get back to full fitness, he is now an important player under Roy Hodgson.

Having been introduced as a halftime substitute in the games against Bournemouth and Brighton a number of weeks ago and going to have a hugely positive impact, the former Everton man has started five of their last six Premier League goals in a holding midfield role.

Compare that to the fortunes of the player who has occupied that position for Ireland for most of the qualifying campaign, with Glenn Whelan having been released by Hearts and currently finding himself without a club.

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Then you have Jayson Molumby.

The Republic of Ireland U21 captain has gone from strength-to-strength during his loan move at Millwall, establishing himself as a firm fan favourite.

He is fantastic on the ball, both in terms of his passing range and ability to take on a man. Stephen Kenny may not want to lose him at U21 level, but his case to be in the senior squad for the first time is too strong to disregard.

Both McCarthy and Molumby have the traits that are currently lacking in the Irish midfield. At his best, McCarthy is the perfect player to set the tempo with his passing, while his also mobile enough and strong enough in the tackle to be effective as the lynchpin in midfield.

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He will not shy away from the ball. He will make himself available to be picked out by a defender, which should ease the pressure on those around him.

Molumby is equally ready to be slotted into the team and improve its fortunes. He is a willing runner and would be the perfect support act for David McGoldrick up front. He will ensure the striker will not be left isolated.

He can also act as the link on the ball, with his type of dribbling ability something we rarely see in a green jersey.

In terms of form, there is no other available options that can match the current level of this pairing

That is not to say the other are playing all that bad. Jeff Hendrick has put in some decent performances for Burnley in recent months, albeit mostly in a right midfield role. Alan Browne has also rediscovered some of his form from last season for Preston having had a slow start to the campaign.

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The Glenn Whelan problem is an altogether different matter. His immediate future is very much up in the air, with little indication of who his next club could be. Even if he does sign somewhere soon, it is unlikely he will match the level of performance we are currently seeing from James McCarthy.

Mick McCarthy has preached the importance of club form, but that will certainly be put to the test here. There seems no logical argument to have the former Stoke man in the team ahead of McCarthy based on current form.

However, the Ireland manager has went against his policy of selecting based on form when it has suited him. John Egan was kept out of the team despite outperforming Richard Keogh for a full season, while we all know the way Matt Doherty has struggled for playing time despite being the best Irish player in the Premier League since the start of the 18/19 campaign.

A midfield trio containing McCarthy, Molumby, and one of Hendrick, Browne, or Hourihane seems like the most obvious immediate solution to solving Ireland's problems in that area.

If form really does count for something, Mick McCarthy can't go with anything else. If he chooses to ignore that fact, it could be fatal to our chances of reaching Euro 2020.

SEE ALSO: David Meyler On Lifestyle Of A Footballer & How Father Keeps Him Grounded

Gary Connaughton

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