Mick McCarthy has a chat, firstly about James Collins:
He’s come up into the Championship this year, he’s playing well and scoring goals and I thought he made the difference when he came on against Bulgaria. Players who sit on the bench and travel around when they get a chance they have to take it, and he did that.
On his back four, and Doherty at left-back:
He’s done fine. I’ve asked him when we’ve trained, just go and play at left-back. He’s one of the best wing-backs over the last two or three years, he’s played left-back for one and a half seasons with Wolves before. I think if you’d asked him, he’d rather be there than not involved.
I want to perform like we did against them in Dublin. That’s to get the first and stop them playing, and when we have it to be comfortable in possession and try and pin them back. I’d like to come off thinking we’d been equal in possession.
Ken Early’s match preview for the Irish Times is excellent. It’s here, and worth a click.
The teams in full, then:
Georgia: Loria, Kakabadze, Kashia, Tabidze, Grigalava, Kankava, Kiteishvili, Okriashvili, Ananidze, Qazaishvili, Kvilitaia. Subs: Elguja Lobjanidze, Shengelia, Makaridze, Saba Lobjanidze, Navalovski, Kharaishvili, Aburjania, Daushvili, Khotcholava, Kupatadze, Kvirkvelia.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Egan, Doherty, Whelan, Hourihane, Robinson, Hendrick, McClean, Collins. Subs: Long, Browne, Connolly, Cullen, Byrne, Williams, O’Hara, O’Dowda, Maguire, Hogan, Travers, Judge.
Referee: Marco Guida (Italy).
Here’s the Georgia team, in two alphabets. They make one change to the team that drew with Denmark, Jaba Kankava replacing Giorgi Aburjania in midfield:
Team news! James Collins makes his competitive debut for the Republic of Ireland, replacing the injured David McGoldrick, in one of three changes from last month’s friendly win over Bulgaria. Matt Doherty replaces the suspended Enda Stevens at left-back and John Egan moves into central defence.
Top of the group by two points, unbeaten in five games, the Republic of Ireland’s qualifying campaign is going swimmingly. But they could still flounder: their two remaining games after this one are against Switzerland (in Geneva on Tuesday) and at home to Denmark, the two other teams competing for final berths. Crucially however those two play in Copenhagen today, making this one final and fantastic opportunity for the Irish to put daylight between themselves and their pursuers. Today’s results will not be definitive, but they could come close: should Ireland win today and Denmark lose, Mick McCarthy will know that a draw in his side’s final home game, or a win in either of their final two fixtures, would be enough.
But let’s not get carried away. Ireland last visited Tbilisi just over two years ago, when they were held to a 1-1 draw in World Cup qualifying, and though they have beaten Georgia at home in this qualifying campaign and their last, on both occasions the score was 1-0. In Georgia’s most recent qualifier, in Tbilisi last month, they held Denmark to a goalless draw. “We must play like we did against Denmark, but we need more quality in the attacking area,” said Vladimir Weiss, their manager. “We hope we will score first, and for the first time in history I hope we can beat Ireland. But we must play at 120%, to play at 100% is not enough.”
The build-up has been illuminated by some entertaining dancing-related repartee between the managers, with Weiss saying that Ireland “play with phenomenal energy, just like Michael Flatley dances. There are good dancers in Georgia too, but he’s very special.” When McCarthy was told about this assessment he paused to think for a while before settling on being very pleased. “When someone describes you as someone who is as brilliant as Michael Flatley, such a wonderful performer and dancer, and a good guy, actually, I’ll take that as a huge compliment of my team,” he beamed.
So once they lace up their boots, will Ireland turn out to be more Michael Flatley or Ed Balls* today? We’re about to find out! Well, in an hour or so anyway. Until then, welcome!
* More recent dancing-related comparisons unavailable due to ignorance.