A week away with Mick McCarthy's Ireland side and what did we learn?

On a positive note, we were reminded of the importance of Shane Duffy to this Ireland team.

The big centre-half pushed himself throughout the last few weeks to get fit for the Euro 2020 qualifying double header in Georgia and Switzerland.

To come back from injury and play to the level that he showed, under real pressure in both matches, and he barely put a foot wrong – right up until injury time in Geneva when he could not help sticking the ball into the back of his own net.

We also learned that Richard Keogh’s absence was barely noticed as John Egan stepped in to marshal the centre of defence alongside Duffy.

The Sheffield United man was named man of the match in Tbilisi and was both commanding in the air and composed in the tackle, and on the ball.

All that was missing from his week’s work was the goal that almost arrived in the early stages of the Georgia game when his headed effort crashed off the post.

And of course, we learned that we have a truly valuable commodity for future campaigns in Aaron Connolly, who made his debut and then gained his first start over the past week.

Connolly led the line in Geneva

Connolly’s cameo in Tbilisi was a breath of fresh air in that fume-filled city, where he made a real impact in just ten minutes of game time.

A lot less effective against the Swiss on a quagmire of a pitch, but the teenager had little support, little supply and spent a large chunk of the night running in the opposite direction or chasing possession.

Connolly also had the gumption to attempt an audacious overhead kick early in the second half in Geneva, which shows the confidence that already exists in his game.

Should he remain in the Brighton team until November, there is every chance that he will get an opportunity to go again against Denmark.

Just the solitary point from six on offer over the past week but the value of that draw in Georgia has become apparent when looking at the bigger qualification picture.

For without it, Ireland’s campaign would be all-but over heading into the final game of the series.

And finally, when we look at all the goings on around England’s match in Sofia, both inside the stadium and around the town, we learned that the Ireland fans really are a credit, enjoying their away days in every European destination without malice or hatred, if just the odd bit of eejitry here and there.

An honest appraisal, however, is also needed when looking at what went wrong over the last week.

The performance in Georgia was sub-standard from an Irish perspective, as the home side dominated possession, with Ireland barely able to string two passes together.

McCarthy blamed the players on that occasion for not holding onto the ball, and there was more of the same when he was discussing the first half of the defeat in Geneva.

The manager would not go into the finer details, but to say that it was a collective responsibility to hold onto the ball.

Jack Byrne watches on in Geneva

You might wonder the logic of bringing Alan Judge or Jack Byrne on the week away considering neither were called upon despite both players having those common attributes of being able to find a pass, receive a pass and create momentum.

McCarthy spoke of Byrne following his fine performance against Bulgaria saying he might not be able to mix it with the Swiss midfield, and while that point cannot be proved at this stage – Byrne did not even get a place on the bench for the Swiss game – surely either midfielder would have made a big difference in Georgia.

The manager took all the chances he was going to take in Geneva, hoping to snatch and grab a victory against the justified top seeds, but ahead of the Denmark game will be looking to get back to the formula that gained a modicum of success in the early stages of the campaign.

By the time that McCarthy faced the media in the post-match press conference in Geneva on Tuesday night, it appeared that he had already drawn a line under these qualifiers and has turned his attention completely towards the Denmark decider.

And with such an important game taking place next month, the main question really is what did McCarthy learn from the two games?

The manager appears unconcerned by the lack of goalscoring opportunities created or by the fact that his side’s confidence took a big hit over the past week.

It’s a cup final, and anything can happen appears to be McCarthy’s motto.

It is highly unlikely that any new faces will be drafted into the set-up for the final match of the campaign, and the manager will be banking on David McGoldrick returning from injury.

Callum O’Dowda did well when he came on in the second half in Geneva and put his hand up to secure that right-sided berth, which appears to be the only place up for grabs.

Seamus Coleman is suspended so Matt Doherty has a few weeks to plan for the game playing in his optimum position, while Alan Browne should compete with Conor Hourihane for a midfield berth.


Jeff Hendrick was tasked by the manager at the start of the campaign to provide more goals and get into more goalscoring positions.

The Dubliner obliged to secure the win in Gibraltar, but that opening game feels like a long time ago now, and Hendrick has failed to follow up on that strike down by the Rock.

One more chance for Ireland, without looking beyond to the Nations League play-offs, and maybe one more chance for players like Hendrick before the manager is forced to stray from starting his favourites if he has to plan for the play-offs.

And should McCarthy come off the pitch after the Denmark match and grumble once more about the players not holding onto the ball, he might need to look inward before speaking out.