Three Irish football stories to look out for this weekend

by Brian Strahan

1.  Christmas Audition?

James McCarthy gave another solid display on Wednesday night in a sparsely populated Aviva stadium.  More focus might have been on the marauding Seamus Coleman and the untapped potential of a tidy Wes Hoolahan.  But McCarthy gave the type of understated, tidy display on which Ireland can hope to build a strong midfield around, whatever the next year of qualifier’s brings.

There are those who believe there is room for more aggression and defensive awareness in his game, but McCarthy has the type of qualities that many might feel have been absent from the Irish midfield in the recent past.

It appears likely by the time Giovanni Trapattoni brings his side to Sweden on March 22nd next year and back to Dublin for the visit of Austria four days later; McCarthy will be one of three midfielders vying for two midfield slots.  McCarthy should have slot one nailed down.  Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews could well fight it out for the second.  The pecking order appears to have been altered.  And McCarthy should be confident he sits comfortably at the top.

Roberto Martinez puts Wigan’s decent league start down to the summer raiding of his players being kept to a minimum.  His side travel to Liverpool on Saturday, a single point behind Brendan Rodgers’s side.  A win could see Saturday evening having Wigan at the mid table point.

Liverpool’s squad will undoubtedly be strengthened in the January transfer window.  The patience being shown in Rodgers is partially related to the limited resources at his disposal.  And in McCarthy he and assistant Colin Pascoe might see the type of player who suits their tidy passing philosophy and importantly someone who is a settled Premiership player.

Whether it would be a good move for McCarthy remains to be seen.  Guaranteed football at the DW stadium under another smart young manager cannot and is not doing his development any harm.

But whether he wants it to be or not, Saturday could be an early audition for a move to Anfield and a new start at a big club who are looking to rise from mediocrity.

2.  One Last Crack

Eight different clubs since leaving Cork City in 2000, Damien Delaney was only two appearances shy of a century for Ipswich Town before leaving by mutual consent this summer.  His time at the Tractor Boys included the tenure of Roy Keane.

The 6ft 3in defender from Cork had his most sustained club period in a six year spell at Hull City, proving his versatility as he moved between centre back, left back and midfield.  His spell at Hull ended in 2008 when he made a move to London and Queens Park Rangers.

Looking at the current state of QPR it comes as little surprise that including caretaker managers, Delaney played under 6 different managers at Loftus Road.  The move to Ipswich Town in the summer of 2009 must have fulfilled a craving for stability; but only saw a slump for a club where the finances and potential have been there but the progress expected stalled.

Weeks before his 31st birthday Delaney might have been seen to be taking a slight gamble in moving to Crystal Palace on a short term deal but a rise to the summit of the Championship and the flair brought by the appointment of Ian Holloway sees the probability of Delaney’s contract being extended until the end of the season and possibly into next season where his new club could be a Premier League side.

And with some solid performances and a hat full of goals to date, Holloway would be wise to consider keeping the experienced Irish international with five appearances under Trapattoni, on board.  This weekend sees Delaney and his teammates look to solidify their position at the top of the Championship when they welcome Derby County on Saturday afternoon.

3.  Northern Star Rising

If you take your eyes off Celtic’s European triumphs, Rangers plight for a return to the big time and Hibernian’s push at the top of the Scottish Premier League, you might notice that Inverness Caledonian Thistle currently lie in fourth position, three points behind Celtic.

Under a management team of ex-England centre back Terry Butcher and ex-Scotland defender Maurice Malpas, Inverness won promotion back to Scotland’s top division.  Finishes of seventh and tenth in the last two seasons is not unreasonable for a club of limited resources.

This season has seen the North Scottish side suffer only two defeats to date.  With 26 league goals to date they are the divisions top scorers.  And involved in many of these goals is the talented Charleville winger, Aaron Doran.

Doran signed on loan from Blackburn Rovers in January 2011.  Such was the impression he made on Butcher, he was signed on a permanent deal in the summer of 2011.  Unfortunately a serious injury saw Doran miss most of last season.

Doran returned to form this term and has been praised for his creative performances in the Inverness side.  A side that includes two Irish strikers; 18 year old Arsenal loanee Philip Roberts and at the other end of the spectrum the much travelled ex-Shelbourne forward, Richie Foran.

Doran’s ability to exploit space in tight league encounters is seen by Butcher and Malpas as crucial in their ascent up the table and an improbable push for a European place.  This Sunday sees Motherwell visit the Caledonian stadium.  Keep an eye out for a possible high score-line.  And keep an ear out for the goals providers.

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