Mick McCarthy: 'I laughed because I was expecting to be in the Group of Death - being sod's law, you think you'll get it'

Sun, Dec 02 2018

McCarthy pictured at the draw alongside Robbie Keane and FAI CEO John Delaney Credit: Photo by Stephen McCarthy - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Dave Donnelly reports from Convention Centre Dublin

Mick McCarthy insists it’s not important who Ireland face in their first EURO 2020 qualifier in March – but a win would certainly be welcome.

The Boys in Green have been drawn alongside top seeds Switzerland – who will contest the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League in June – Denmark, Georgia and Gibraltar in Group D.

As third seeds, the odds are against Ireland making the top two and an automatic spot for the finals, which will see three group games held in Dubin, in two years time.

It is an infinitely more achievable proposition than the alternative, however, which befell Northern Ireland as they were drawn in the group of death alongside the Netherlands and Germany.

The Republic of Ireland were originally drawn in that group but, as both Amsterdam and Munich will also host games at the championships, they were excluded from the pot.

“All of us who had not been drawn thought we were going to get with Holland and Germany, and there was a sigh of relief,” the Yorkshireman said after the draw.

“Not from me – I laughed. It’s like the old cliché, Group of Death. I laughed because I was fully expecting to be in that group, being sod’s law, you think you will get it.”

McCarthy has experience in overcoming underdog status to qualify for a major championships, having finished second in a group containing Portugal and the Dutch to reach the World Cup in 2002.

“18 years ago, when we had Holland and Portugal in the group, we were written off at the start when we had two games away.

“We had Holland and Portugal away and drew with them both. Then we drew with Portugal in Lansdowne and beat Holland to qualify.

“That’s my memories that I want to think about and want to do it again. So whichever group we are in, we are going to have to take it. But I think everyone is slightly relieved.

“But I think that is a bit premature when you have Switzerland in the group, who I think are one of the best teams in Europe at the minute.

“And Denmark, who have been our nemesis knocking us out of the World Cup and then beat us in the Nations League, so it is not going to be easy.”

The 59-year-old is sanguine regarding what the behind-the-scenes politicking could yield in terms of an opening fixture, with a trip to Denmark or Switzerland neither inevitable nor desirable.

Having negotiated away double-header to Portugal and the Netherlands, he knows a tough opening can be turned into a positive, but a home game in front of a capacity crowd would be ideal.

“I’ve been giving that some thought and what do you want? Do you want a game, any game, that you think that maybe you can win?

“And if that is the case, everyone will be looking at the last team, Gibraltar. But what if you go there and it is on a plastic pitch, who knows.

“I’d like a full house [for the opening game]. I’d love it to be a big game. At the moment, there is a bit of positivity coming back to it, so get the crowd behind us, it would be great.

“If we could win the first game it would be vitally important.”