By Aidan Fitzmaurice
Mick McCarthy used almost 70 players in his six-year tenure as Republic of Ireland manager - but one name in particular helped bring an end to the career of the longest-serving national coach in Europe.
The ghost of Keane
When Roy Keane walked out of the Republic's FIFA World Cup training camp in the Pacific island of Saipan in the summer, he effectively closed the door on McCarthy's reign as manager. Because no matter how well the Irish did at the finals - and by reaching the last 16 and losing to Spain on penalties they fared better than tournament favourites France, Portugal and Argentina - the ghost of Keane was always going to haunt him.
McCarthy steps down
As long as the Corkman was playing for Manchester United FC, and stating that he was willing to play for Ireland again as long as McCarthy was not manager, there would be no respite. So it was no surprise when, just two games into the qualifying campaign for UEFA EURO 2004™, and only months into a new two-year contract, McCarthy agreed to step down and give someone else the chance to lead the team to the finals in Portugal - and possibly open the door for Keane's return.
Jeers and cheers
End game for McCarthy came when his side lost their opening Group 10 qualifiers away to Russia and at home to Switzerland - the latter being the first competitive defeat in Dublin under the Yorkshireman. For the first time in his reign, McCarthy and his team were booed off the Lansdowne Road pitch by the home fans. And when he heard supporters jeering his name - while cheering that of absent captain Keane - McCarthy knew he was fighting a losing battle.
'Not judged by results'
The one regret for the 43-year-old former Manchester City FC defender will surely be his decision not to quit after the World Cup, at the height of his popularity. Still, many within the game feel McCarthy has been punished, not for losing football matches, but for past sins. "
Managers are judged on results but Mick is not being judged by his results, instead he is being criticised for things that happened in the past and in the summer," said former Ireland captain Frank Stapleton, referring to the Keane incident.
It was that criticism which helped force McCarthy out of the job and into unemployment for the first time in his life. He always had a difficult relationship with the Irish press - for 15 years he has reportedly refused to speak to one reporter who game him a 4/10 rating for one of his 57 appearances as an Ireland player - but after Korea/Japan the attacks by sections of the Dublin media intensified.
Healthy crop of talent
The Football Association of Ireland are now looking for a replacement - former Ireland striker John Aldridge has thrown his hat into the ring - although Under-21 manager Don Givens should take charge for the friendly in Greece later this month. Whoever comes in will inherit a healthy crop of talent. Ireland won the Under-16 and Under-18 UEFA titles in 1998 and those players have now come through to senior level, from established names like Robbie Keane and Stephen McPhail to the promising John O'Shea, Thomas Butler and Graham Barrett.
McCarthy inherited an ageing team from Jack Charlton but leaves a young one, with an average age of 26, which is also experienced as relative youngsters Kevin Kilbane, Robbie Keane and Shay Given have all collected more than 40 senior caps. His legacy could yet be a strong one.
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