Mick McCarthy explains why Glenn Whelan has returned to the Ireland squad 2 months ago

Mick McCarthy explains why Glenn Whelan has returned to the Ireland squad

Mick McCarthy has announced his first Republic of Ireland squad in his second stint as manager.

For the first time since October 2002, when he was last in the job, McCarthy was in Dublin to name an Ireland squad.

Back then, he could select players featuring in the upper echelons of the Premier League. On Thursday, McCarthy's squad featured 19 Championship players, three from League One and a League Two player.

Ireland get their Euro 2020 qualification campaign underway against Gibraltar on March 23, three days before they host Georgia in Dublin.

And there are very few new faces in the provisional selection as a new era gets underway for the national team.

James Collins and Padraig Amond have been handed their first Ireland call-ups. Mark Travers, a 19-year-old goalkeeper on the books at Bournemouth, is the other new inclusion.

The biggest surprise from the squad announcement was the return of Glenn Whelan.

The Aston Villa midfielder had a send-off in the friendly against Northern Ireland in Dublin back in November.

At the time, that appeared to be his 85th and final Ireland cap. However, McCarthy has called the 35-year-old back into the squad after some impressive displays at club level in the Championship this season.

"Well, I rang him and asked him had he retired, and he said no he hadn't," the Ireland boss told reporters on Thursday in Dublin.

"So, was he retired, as opposed to retiring himself? I don’t know.

"He's playing well. He's playing with Conor Hourihane as well, so there's a bit of a partnership there. At least there is some understanding, (between) those two.

"I wonder about our squad of midfield players, about someone who could do a specific role as a sitter, he certainly can.

"Whether he ends up being in the final squad, remains to be seen. But I've been impressed with him, yes."

McCarthy said that he has noticed the form of Aidan McGeady, who has excelled for Sunderland in League One this season.

He also reserved a mention for some of the younger players in the squad and spoke about Ireland's strength in wide forward positions.

"Ronan Curtis and Callum O'Dowda have done very well at their clubs, both have been scoring goals."

"Aidan, yes he's playing brilliantly. Robbie Brady's just coming back. James McClean has been playing, I watched him score against Ipswich. We have a lot of players in those wide areas."

The Ireland manager was then asked about Nathan Redmond.

The Southampton winger has played once for England at senior level but is still eligible to play for Ireland as his mother is from the country and his appearance for England was in a friendly game.

However, it appears unlikely that he will be wearing green. When McCarthy was asked if there was an update in the pursuit of Redmond, he simply replied:

"Nothing at all."

Scoring goals has been a problem for the Ireland team - they last found the net in a competitive match against Wales in September 2018, when Shaun Williams scored in Cardiff.

McCarthy is evidently aware of the side's woes in front of goal and has drafted strikers Amond and Collins into the squad.

Amond has been in great goalscoring form for League Two side Newport County in the FA Cup this season, netting against Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Manchester City.

While Collins has scored 20 goals for Luton Town in League One.

McCarthy said that, regardless of the level the two players are competing at, they warrant inclusion because of the goals they have scored this season.

"Both James Collins and Padraig Amond have had good seasons," he said.

"If you've got a goalscorer in a rich vein of form, you may just require that at some stage. I know if a chance falls to him, they might just put it in the net."

Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark, Preston North End forward Callum Robinson, Burnley's Jonathan Walters and Southampton striker Michael Obafemi have been ruled out of the Ireland squad through injury.

James McCarthy has been called up after a long spell on the sidelines. The Everton midfielder has returned to fitness after a horrific leg break in January 2018 but has yet to make an appearance for the Toffees this season.

McCarthy said that he views the midfielder as an important player for Ireland, but he needs to get game time at club level before returning to action for the national team.

"I’ve spoken to him a couple of times. I hoped he would go on loan at Christmas but they didn't let him go for whatever reason. He's not started a game for a long time," he said.

"He is one of our best midfielders, but if the best midfielders don’t play, they’re not the best midfielders. They are the ones who play games and are battle-hardened."

McCarthy will cut his squad from 38-players to 23 on March 17.

The team will train for a week in Dublin before travelling to play Gibraltar on Saturday, March 23. They then play Georgia three days later at the Aviva Stadium.