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McCarthy the new Brady?

Giovanni Trapattoni wants to move on from the Thierry Henry handball incident back in November that ultimately cost Republic of Ireland their place at this summer's World Cup.

By adopting the kind of distraction tactics that would be more suited to a magician, he has switched the attention away from that play-off defeat and towards the future that lies in wait for the Irish team.

With a trio of young debutants in his squad for the friendly against Brazil at Emirates Stadium, Trapattoni has cleverly built up the excitement ahead of what is a meaningless game.

Okay, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) could do with the extra cash, but there isn't much that the Ireland boss will learn about his team against Dunga's side. Instead, he will use the game as a platform to introduce the likes of James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Greg Cunningham to international football.

McCarthy, in particular, is someone that the Irish public want to see in action. Ever since the Glasgow-born midfielder announced that he was to play for Ireland rather than Scotland, there has been a hum of anticipation buzzing around his every move.

Now he is set to win his first senior cap and the Irish media have excitedly hailed him as the new Liam Brady. The comparison to the Arsenal legend is fitting in many ways because McCarthy is technically superb, plays in a similar playmaking role and Brady helped convince him to stick with Ireland.

Scotland boss Craig Levein recently revealed that he tried to get McCarthy to switch his allegiance back towards the country of his birth, but Brady had already been in touch to remind the 19-year-old that he was still in Trapattoni's plans.

"Liam Brady called me. He said to keep working hard at my club, keep my head down and see what happens," McCarthy said. "I got a couple of phone calls from Ireland asking what's happening but I told them from day one that nothing was happening and it's just paper talk. Ireland came over and watched me in my first game and put me in. I've not looked back since."

McCarthy admits to feeling let down when he was snubbed by Scottish coaches at youth level, so when Ireland Under-17 manager Sean McCaffrey offered him the opportunity to represent the country that his grandfather hailed from, he jumped at the chance.

The reason this international tug-of-war ignited was due to the impact that McCarthy made at Hamilton Academical. After making his first-team debut at 15, he scored his first goal at 16 and then helped the club win promotion to the SPL.

By that stage he was being linked with numerous big-name clubs, but he chose to join Wigan Athletic. That has proved to be a wise decision - even though he experienced a slow start - as he has scored one goal in his eight Premier League starts so far.

McCarthy is the kind of player that makes things happen. He can light up a game or swing the momentum in favour of his team with a deft flick, a precise pass or a powerful shot. He possesses a gift to excite supporters and win games.

The big hope for Trapattoni is that he can be the joker in the pack when Ireland march into their Euro 2012 qualification campaign in September. Even though he led his team through their World Cup qualifying group unbeaten, Trapattoni knows that he was missing a player with the ability to change things.

The only question now is: where does McCarthy fit into Trapattoni's 4-4-2 system?

"I like centre midfield and I like the No 10 position as well as I've played there with the Ireland Under-19s and Under-21s. Anywhere in the team will be great," McCarthy said.

So will the Italian be willing to change his entire system to suit one player? He was unwilling to do it for Andy Reid, but then again McCarthy is a far better player than Reid will ever be.

That conundrum could become a little clearer if the Wigan star makes his senior bow at the Emirates. But wherever he fits into the team, McCarthy is sure to make a difference, so it is no wonder Irish fans are getting excited about the new Brady.

• Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPNsoccernet. Check out his website to read more of his writing.


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