Kevin Kilbane believes a matured James McCarthy is vital to the Republic of Ireland’s chances of success at Euro 2016.
The Blues midfielder sat out Tuesday night’s 2-1 home friendly defeat to Belarus with a minor hamstring complaint, but was later included along with club teammates Seamus Coleman and Aiden McGeady in the final 23-man squad for the tournament in France.
And today, in the first instalment of an exclusive four-part series looking at the Toffees’ Irish contingent on evertonfc.com
, current BBC pundit Kilbane – one of only six people to have played over 100 times for Ireland - explains why he believes McCarthy has cemented his place in his national side’s starting XI over the last 12 months.
“James McCarthy is a starter, 100 per cent,” said Kilbane. “If you asked me last week, I’d have said the first game against Sweden we’d line up with McCarthy, Glen Whelan and Harry Arter - and, for me, that’s a very strong midfield. They’ve all played Premier League football this season and I would have enjoyed watching those three, but obviously Arter is injured now and he’s going to miss out. Regardless of that, McCarthy will be in there.
“I think he’s matured a lot. He received criticism for his performances in an Ireland shirt up until a year or even six months ago, but he’s really come to the fore over the last year. He’s really started to realise his potential for Ireland and I’ve been really impressed with him in the last five or six games he’s played in particular. He’s vitally missed when he’s not there now.
“Martin O’Neill explained that even though there was a slight concern over his injury, he’s still a certain pick - and I think that speaks volumes. Hopefully he’ll be right for the first game against Sweden.”
Asked how he envisions the Boys in Green performing across the English Channel, Kilbane has backed his nation to progress from a difficult group, which also includes Sweden, Italy and Belgium.
He added: “I’m ever the optimist! I watched Ireland growing up and was obviously fortunate to be part of the squad a few times as well and, overall, we’ve had relative success in the major tournaments.
“I think there was an unusually negative vibe around the squad in 2012 [when they lost all three group games], which isn’t normally the case and certainly isn’t this time around. I’m confident on Ireland’s chances and I can’t wait for the tournament to begin.”