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19th Nov 2019

Expect Ireland to make just one change for Euro 2020 playoffs

Patrick McCarry

As much as we might feel that we are a couple of players away from cracking it, Mick McCarthy will have been convinced of something else.

Just like when Ireland headed to Paris to beat France, 10 years ago, a senior team from this island proved we have the ability to play a bit of football. Alas, it was not to be and the Ireland playoffs for the final Euro 2020 spots will be in four months’ time.

The shame is that it always takes Ireland to be on the ropes to find that extra gear and to realise that most international sides are eminently beatable.

One of the most obvious aspects of our recent, six-game rivalry with the Danes is that they’re not all that. They have tidy footballers, a fine goalkeeper and a solid defence, and they have one gem in Christian Eriksen.

In international football, that will get you so far but Denmark are no world beaters. For all their talk of being denizens of a slick ball-playing land, they spent an awful chunk of last night hoofing balls straight up the pitch or straight into the stands.

Ireland looked as good as they have done under Mick McCarthy, since his return, but it must be noted that the Danes only needed to draw. They were conservative for long stretches because they knew a point would be enough.

The Ireland team, back row, from left to right, David McGoldrick, Shane Duffy, Matt Doherty, Darren Randolph, Conor Hourihane, Alan Browne and John Egan. Front row, from left to right, James McClean, Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick and Enda Stevens prior to the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match against Denmark. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

The goal scored by Martin Braithwaite mid-way through the second half emphasised exactly what we were missing – someone to put chances away.

David McGoldrick led the Ireland line superbly and created four good chances for his teammates but he lacks that clinical edge in front of goal. Of the two best chances that fell to him, he swivelled and shot way over the bar of Kasper Schmeichel and he shouldered the other wide but Ireland were fortunately awarded a corner. In the first half, he fizzed one that went close but not close enough from over 30 yards out.

What McGoldrick needed was another forward feeding, and running, off him. What he got was Jeff Hendrick and Alan Browne alternating in a support striker role.

Hendrick was learning on the job, in the first half, but nothing appeared to be going in. Whereas McGoldrick was great for holding the ball up and bringing others into play, Hendrick was passing away possession and trying flicks that were not working.

He improved a lot in the second half, controlling a few balls on his chest and bringing teammates into the game, but McCarthy then swapped him around with Alan Browne in the latter stages.

The game was crying out for Seanie Maguire or Troy Parrott and it was not until the 81st minute that the former came on for Glenn Whelan. McCarthy got a lot right on Monday, but leaving it this late to introduce Maguire was wrong.

Matt Doherty’s final act of the game, it could be said, was his 84th minute equaliser. The Wolves defender was on the pitch until the 94th and final minute but he had used up all his bullets by then. So it was another 1-1 draw and not one of those 1-1 draws that so often benefit us.

Ireland will learn their Euro 2020 playoff fate on Friday but do not expect the playing personnel to change too much by next March, when that playoff semi-final takes place.

To our mind, the only change we see McCarthy making is Aaron Connolly coming in for Alan Browne, and even that is not a given. Connolly, once he recovers from his groin strain, will hopefully get in another dozen games for Brighton and be pressing for a start in the playoff. He would be asked to play wide and get up in support of McGoldrick. It is a partnership that could do well for us.

The other big call will be Matt Doherty or Seamus Coleman at right back. A lot may depend on club form but Doherty – his big defensive lapse for the Braithwaite goal aside – looked very good against the Danes.

McCarthy could be tempted to go Coleman and Doherty on his right flank but he’d need every single second on the training ground to get both lads geared up for that one.

Predicted Ireland XI for playoffs

1. Darren Randolph

2. Matt Doherty
3. Enda Stevens
4. John Egan
5. Shane Duffy

6. Glenn Whelan
7. Conor Hourihane
8. Jeff Hendrick
10. Aaron Connolly
11. James McClean

9. David McGoldrick

In the mean-time, look to the U21s and U19s for the next Irish gem that can perform possible miracles next March.