21.08.2002 at 00:00 - Helsinki
Mick Mc Carthy pledged to give his entire squad in Helsinki a chance to play a part in tonight’s friendly against Finland in the Olympic Stadium.This means promising young players like Thomas Butler of Sunderland, Gary Doherty (Spurs), Colin Healy (Celtic) and Stephen McPhail (Leeds) will have a chance to stake a claim for inclusion in the squad for the European Championship qualifying tie against Russia in Moscow next month.
Indications are, however, ten of the 14 players who saw action against Spain in Ireland's last match in the World Cup will start tonight.
Likely changes to the team that started on that dramatic occasion will involve the replacement of retired Steve Staunton by Kenny Cunningham, the restoration of Gary Kelly to the right back position vacated by the injured Steve Finnan and the recall of Jason McAteer to play where Kelly operated against Spain, on the right of midfield.
McCarthy declined yesterday to confirm his team selection as he awaited the late arrival of goalkeeper Shay Given and centre back Gary Breen. They were on league duty on Monday when Newcastle beat West Ham 4-0.
McCarthy has always viewed friendly matches as important in the evolution of the team but despite the retirement of three of his World Cup squad Steve Staunton, Niall Quinn and goalkeeper Alan Kelly and the non availability of Roy Keane, he expressed puzzlement as to why this should be regarded as the start of a new era.
"Just because four players are not with us does not mean that we are having to introduce four newcomers," he said. "Those players standing in line to replace them have all had regular international experience with us and this is just a continuation of what has been going on for six years now with me."
He pointed to a contrast, however, in the circumstances surrounding the European Championship campaign that will start for Ireland on the week end of Steptember 7-8 with a match against Russia in Moscow by recalling the beginning of the last two championship programmes.
"We played Croatia and then Holland in our first matches in the European Championship of 2000 and the World Cup just finished," he said, "both had just done well in the respective finals and we were able to catch them first time out.
"Now we have just had a very good World Cup so the situation is reversed for us.
"I know Russia were also at the World Cup finals but they have undergone massive change since, in terms of players and management, so teams will regard us as a nice scalp to try and capture.
"That is why I am glad of this match. You know I always attach importance to friendly matches and we will set out to win as we always do and, as always, I will be looking for a good performance. I'm glad we have this opportunity to bring everybody together again after the World Cup prior to travelling to Moscow."
The promotion of Thomas Butler from the U21 squad to the senior squad is interesting because he is rated very highly at Sunderland where he began the season in the first team. He can play on either flank and could emerge as a viable alternative for either Jason McAteer or Ireland's two left wingers, Kevin Kilbane and Damien Duff.
McCarthy said he had seen Butler play for Sunderland against Charlton Athletic and for Ireland's U21 in Estonia. He added: "Any time I have seen him play he has excelled. He has terrific ability on the ball and good pace and he is a very tidy player."
When asked whether he thought Butler could be another Damien Duff, he responded: "He (Butler) had a problem with the contract at the club but that has now been sorted out and that has helped him settle down there. I think it is unfair to try and make comparisons because all the players who have just come through a World Cup are bigger, better and stronger players for the experience.
"I would love to think, of course, that he could be another Damien Duff, I would be very, very pleased to have another available to me but I am not going to put that tag on him, I am not going to put pressure on him by describing him like that."
McCarthy said this game would give him a good opportunity to assess the fitness of the players who had represented Ireland during the World Cup campaign and he drew on his own experiences on his return from the World Cup finals of 1990 in Italy to make his point.
He said: "I felt great when I came back from Italy and I felt great right through the pre season, it felt just like a continuation of the finals. But then coming towards the end of August and into September I suddenly felt shattered, it was then it hit me.
"That's the effect it can have on you and for that reason it would have been a mistake for us to have gone to Moscow without a get together first."
Jason McAteer will captain the team on the occasion of his winning his 50th cap and he spoke of his pride and sense of achievement in being accorded this recognition. He admitted he had spoken of a possible retirement during the World Cup finals but said his attitude was influenced by the long time he was separated from his family and his two -year-old son and by the injury that limited his involvement.
"When you return home and settle down again you view things a little differently," he said, "I was always the joker in the squad but now I am older I view things a little more sensibly and I am looking forward to helping Ireland not just to qualify for the European finals but hopefully to win it."
Cunningham, Matt Holland and substitute goalkeeper Nick Colgan (Hibernian) sat out yesterday's training session because of minor injuries that will not keep them out of the match and Ireland are expected to start tonight with this team:
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): Shay Given (Newcastle); Gary Kelly (Leeds), Gary Breen (West Ham), Kenny Cunningham (Birmingham), Ian Harte (Leeds); Jason McAteer (Sunderland), Matt Holland (Ipswich), Mark Kinsella (Charlton), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland); Robbie Keane (Leeds), Damien Duff (Blackburn).