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Mick McCarthy’s second term as Republic of Ireland boss begins in a low-key setting against Gibraltar on Saturday.
Four months after his return to the job he left in 2002, McCarthy’s bid to help the Republic to reach Euro 2020 starts at the 2,300-capacity Victoria Stadium.
The Martin O’Neill era ended in a run of four games without a goal but his successor wants a more positive style.
“We’re encouraging players to pass forward, get in the box, create chances and try to take them,” McCarthy said.
“Creating them is one thing, taking them is another thing altogether. But if you’re watching that this morning we’ve got some really good players.”
The Republic will also host Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday as they look to make a strong start to their Group D campaign before they renew their rivalry with Denmark in June.
Denmark defeated the Republic 5-1 on aggregate in their World Cup 2018 play-off and the two teams also played out a pair of toothless 0-0 draws in the group stages of the inaugural Uefa Nations League.
Gibraltar earned first competitive wins in autumn
McCarthy’s first spell as manager began with a run of eight friendly matches, with his first win coming in the final fixture against Bolivia in June 1996, but he has been thrust straight into a competitive fixture to start his second stint in the job.
A match against the side ranked 194th in the world would seem an ideal way to begin their bid to qualify for Euro 2020 as McCarthy attempts to rebuild confidence within the squad after a dismal Nations League campaign that ended in relegation to League C and resulted in O’Neill’s departure.
However, the Irish will not underestimate a Gibraltar side who earned the country’s first competitive wins as they defeated Armenia away and Liechtenstein at home during the autumn.
In their previous 20 qualifiers since their entrance to the international football stage, Gibraltar had lost all 20 of their qualifiers – conceding 103 goals in the process.
Keeper Kyle Goldwin made a string of fine saves in the win in Yerevan although manager Julio Cesar Ribas will be without injured striker George Cabrera, who scored in the victory over Liechtenstein.
Reece Styche, who plays for English National League North team Alfreton Town, is expected to replace Cabrera in attack, while the side is also likely to include centre-back Jack Sergeant, whose club is North West Counties League outfit West Didsbury & Chorlton.
McCarthy wants to get Irish smiling again
McCarthy’s first squad is largely picked from the same pool of players used by O’Neill but the inclusion of uncapped midfielders Josh Cullen and Jack Byrne as well as teenage goalkeeper Mark Travers has added some freshness to the camp.
“It’s up to me to get positive results and have people smiling again. Let’s hope I can do that,” said McCarthy.
“But what went on before me is not my problem and not my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to change that. I’ll be doing my damnedest to make sure that’s not the case and I’m sure the lads will.”
The Republic managed to score just four goals across their nine matches in 2018, with two of those coming in a 2-1 friendly win against USA, and developing a cutting edge in attack is the most urgent task facing McCarthy.
Shane Long and Ronan Curtis have both been ruled out through injury, while Luton Town striker James Collins is hoping to earn his first senior cap on Saturday.
McGoldrick hoping for Republic call
Sheffield United forward David McGoldrick’s last international appearance was in a friendly defeat by Mexico in June 2017 but his form for the Blades this season – 12 goals in 36 appearances – has earned him a recall under McCarthy.
“He’s been excellent. He plays the striker role differently to most players, it’s a different way and it benefits a lot of people around the pitch,” said McGoldrick’s club-mate Enda Stevens, who is expected to start at left-back this week following the international retirement of Stephen Ward.
“He makes most of the team probably a better player because he takes the ball in tight situations, he’s tricky, he gets goals. He’s got a bit of everything.”
Preston striker Sean Maguire will also hope to get the attacking nod from McCarthy which would see him win a fourth cap.
Another selection issue for McCarthy is whether he is going to able to accommodate in-form Wolves right-back Matt Doherty, with squad skipper Seamus Coleman having been an automatic selection in recent years.
Derby defender Richard Keogh looks in line to start alongside Shane Duffy in central defence despite suffering a broken hand in club action last weekend.
If Keogh is included, he will wear a lightweight cast on the injury.