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Injured James McCarthy called into Ireland squad (again)

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Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

James McCarthy, who has not played since March due to a hamstring injury aggravated during national team duty with Ireland, has been called into the Republic of Ireland national team’s provisional squad for three matches in June.

If it weren’t for the history between the player, Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, and Everton manager Ronald Koeman, McCarthy’s recall into the national team probably wouldn’t have drawn much attention. O’Neill told the Irish Examiner that McCarthy is scheduled to start training full-time at Everton this week — so his inclusion in a provisional squad seemed reasonable.

I think this week will decide a lot. We still have time. If he comes through this week unscathed then it might be something we would look at. I’ve put him in provisionally because, according to Everton, he is starting full-time training this week. He obviously wouldn’t be involved in their last game but they’ve scanned him — I think there’s some scar tissue, as you would be expecting — and I would say I’d be in a better position to make some sort of judgment maybe by Friday and certainly by early next week.

O’Neill even went on to note that utilizing players who aren’t fully fit doesn’t benefit him or the player.

The truth is that the one thing that we have to come to accept is that there is no point in bringing somebody who is just half fit. That’s really it....If he has done three or four days consecutively and he feels nothing and he feels that he is actually doing well, then I have a decision to make. But if he is actually thinking ‘I don’t feel great about this’ then, I feel, you know what, just leave it for this summer.

If this situation involved any other player and any other international manager, this would be a non-story. Including a not fully fit player in a 37-man provisional roster for matches that are still three weeks away isn’t exactly earth-shattering news in most instances.

But, given O’Neill’s poor choices regarding utilization of McCarthy in the past, Everton supporters and staff have a right to be concerned that a poor choices could be made. O’Neill’s comments regarding use of half-fit players seems a step in the right direction, but let’s take a moment to think about exactly what his word is really worth.

Following McCarthy’s re-injury during a warm-up for the Irish national team, Koeman hit out at O’Neill, who responded with an official statement through the Irish FA. The crux of O’Neill’s complaint was that Everton had pushed McCarthy as hard, if not harder, than his national team. The main point of his argument was the following:

James had a magnificent tournament for the Republic of Ireland last summer during UEFA EURO 2016, playing his last game in very late June. He then returned to Everton after a very short break, but only 11 days later, he played his first of three games, all within an eight-day period, against Real Betis, Manchester United and Espanyol. Overloading?

That sounds pretty damning — until you realize it’s patently false.

France v Republic of Ireland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016
James McCarthy playing against Paul Pogba
Photo by Aurelien Meunier/UEFA via Getty Images

McCarthy and Ireland’s last match in Euro 2016 was indeed in late June, June 26, to be exact. McCarthy was subbed out in the 71st minute.

The first Everton match McCarthy participated in was indeed against Real Betis — on July 30th! If we follow O’Neill’s math, McCarthy likely entered Everton’s pre-season camp on or around July 19 — more than three weeks after his final match with Ireland. I sure wish my employer thought that three weeks off was a “very short break!”

McCarthy played 60 minutes against Real Betis on July 30, 65 minutes on August 3 against Manchester United, and 27 minutes against Espanyol on August 6. That’s 152 minutes in the course of eight days — not even two full matches worth of minutes in a time period that most top players will accrue 180 minutes during in the regular season.

With truth-stretching like that, Martin ought to drop out of managing altogether and go straight into politics — maybe it would help preserve a few players’ careers as well.

At any rate, hopefully O’Neill has indeed learned his lesson and won’t push McCarthy past a healthy point. But, Everton supporters will surely be watching on nervously in the interim.