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McClean: Ireland might have qualified for Euro 2020 if Mick McCarthy had stayed in charge

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JAMES MCCLEAN HAS suggested Ireland would have had a better chance of qualifying for Euro 2020 had Mick McCarthy not been replaced by Stephen Kenny, and has backed John O’Shea to be appointed as Kenny’s full-time successor following a “farcical” search process. 

McCarthy was initially scheduled to take charge of the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia, but the postponing of the game led to Stephen Kenny taking charge of that tie, ahead of schedule. Ireland lost the tie on penalties, following a goalless draw. 

That play-off was actually secured by Martin O’Neill, by quirk of Uefa formatting that guaranteed Ireland a backdoor to Euro 2020 despite finishing bottom of their Nations League campaign. McCarthy took charge of the qualification campaign for Euro 2020, in which Ireland finished third behind Switzerland and Denmark. 

In the context of recent comments by O’Shea on hoping his Irish side become “horrible to play against”, McClean – appearing on punditry duty for RTÉ ahead of Ireland’s friendly game against Portugal – took an unsubtle swipe at Kenny by saying Ireland had gone away from being “hard to beat.” 

“It’s a trait that served us well”, said McClean of the old virtue of being “hard to beat.”

“We qualified for two tournaments, Euro 2012 and 2016, and got to a play off under Mick McCarthy, if Mick had been in charge we potentially would have got to three in a row under that style of play.

“Nowadays you can get sucked into the whole total football and statistics. ‘We had 59% possession’. But a lot of it was across the backline, and we lost the game. We have always been hard to beat and in the last three years we have gone away from that. We have built our foundations: being hard to beat and having that bit of  nastiness about us. You will always get opportunities in games, and then we have to take the opportunities. Seeing the last three games, we have become hard to beat again.” 

McClean also endorsed O’Shea for the job full-time. 

“You have nothing to lose by doing so”, said McClean. “People get fixated on him not having the experience, but how do you get experience? You get it by being in the role. I’m not saying John is Pep Guardiola but Guardiola had no experience when he got the Barcelona job, he had a year or two at Barcelona B. 

“He has done pretty well so far. Look at the teams we have played so far, they are ranked a lot higher than us. We missed a penalty against Belgium, we probably should have won that game. Switzerland are a good side, we got beaten by a free-kick. Then we beat Hungary who had been 14 games unbeaten and had been going quite well. 

“We are nearly a year into the process and they still don’t have a manager. It has been a bit of a farce in that sense. I think John has done his chances no harm. 

“We are nearly a year on and each week there’s a new name mentioned, and this person has been interviewed. I would love to be a fly on the wall to have seen what has gone on in these interviews, I might be naive but I think it’s a pretty good job. For people to keep turning it down, it begs the question: what has been going on?” 

McClean also kept the door ajar to his potential return to the Irish set-up in the future, saying he would weigh up his options if a call came to return. 

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