|Listen to Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football podcast with Mick McCarthy on BBC Sounds.|
Mick McCarthy is many things: a former footballer, manager, pundit and, maybe surprisingly, recording artist.
On this week’s Proper Football podcast, McCarthy discusses how Jack Charlton pioneered the ‘gegenpress’, talks about facing Italy, and how he got sweet revenge on a critical journalist.
McCarthy famously captained the Republic of Ireland to their first major finals at Euro ’88, then all the way to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990.
As a manager, he has led a number of clubs and had two spells in charge of the Republic of Ireland.
He’s also a massive character and raconteur.
On releasing a pop song
Early on in the podcast we hear about Did You Ever? – the cover of a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood song McCarthy released with Irish singer Linda Martin.
It’s not the most impressive vocal performance. McCarthy says his music teacher at school described his singing voice as that of a “grunter”.
“I ruined his lessons for three years,” he recalls. “He asked me one time: ‘Why do you disrupt these lessons?’ I said: ‘You told me I was a grunter on the very first lesson.’
“I had to sit through his lessons for three years, having told me I had not got a musical note in my head. But God love him, he was correct.”
On Jack Charlton pioneering the gegenpress
Charlton, who died in 2020 at the age of 85, was the man who turned the Republic Ireland team around.
McCarthy says he loved Charlton, and describes his tactics as revolutionary.
“All this ‘gegenpressing’ – there’s new words for it now… it was ‘put them under pressure’,” McCarthy says. “We’d nick it and play in their half and then we had good players who could take them on.
“He said: ‘Most teams play three centre-backs and two wing-backs. We’re going to turn them around and stick it in the channel. They’re that arrogant, they won’t just boot it out – they’ll try and play over our heads.'”
On racing a journalist who said he couldn’t run
Early in his international playing career, McCarthy faced competition from the likes of Mark Lawrenson and admits not everyone approved of his selection.
In fact, one journalist was so unimpressed by McCarthy’s athleticism he bet then manager Eoin Hand he could beat the defender in a race. The prize was £50. McCarthy accepted.
“After a training session, he comes and he’s been stretching on the side and all sorts, getting warmed up. We set off and I just pipped him. I’d got football boots on, he had trainers on, so I think he was slipping,” McCarthy says.
“He wasn’t too happy with that – he wanted a best-of-three. I went and had a second race and he pulled his hamstring. I broke my heart laughing at him.”
On playing against Italy
The Republic of Ireland’s 1990 World Cup journey ended with a 1-0 defeat in the quarter-finals by host nation Italy.
McCarthy remembers: “Typical of us, we turned up with plastic bags with our kits in, laid-back. We went and laid on the pitch and watched the other quarter-final on the TV.
“The Italians turned up in their clobber, dark glasses and slicked-back hair. We were rough and ready.
“You could see they were shocked.”
On his 2002 World Cup team
As manager, McCarthy took the Republic of Ireland to the World Cup in 2002.
His tenure is now largely remembered for an almighty fallout with Roy Keane, but he did get the team through to the knockout stage, qualifying from a group that also contained Cameroon and Germany.
The Republic were beaten on penalties by Spain in the last 16, having missed a penalty in normal time.
“It irks the hell out of me that the lads don’t get recognised,” says McCarthy.
“They were different class. We played great football. Cameroon – we drew first game and played really well.”
McCarthy also recalls a qualifying game against the Netherlands.
“If you ask me who my best team was, it’s that one,” he says.
“Of course, Roy played in that game and played very well. It’s sad how it all ended, but it ended the way it did.”