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Big Mick back Born-again McCarthy laughs off dinosaur tag at Cardiff

His former players outline what makes Mick tick as ex-Ireland boss helps Bluebirds take flight

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Former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy is proving age is no barrier to success with an unbeaten start to his Cardiff City career. Photo: Nicos Savvides/Sportsfile

Former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy is proving age is no barrier to success with an unbeaten start to his Cardiff City career. Photo: Nicos Savvides/Sportsfile

Former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy is proving age is no barrier to success with an unbeaten start to his Cardiff City career. Photo: Nicos Savvides/Sportsfile

If social media and radio phone-in shows are a barometer, there was no red carpet being rolled out for Mick McCarthy when he was appointed Cardiff City manager 33 days ago, disappointment and indifference the main emotions as a city, bruised by the failures of its football team, shrugged its shoulders.

A 61-year-old who’d lasted two months in his previous job and had failed to win a game of major consequence in his brief spell as Ireland manager provoked groans, not grins.

The mood music is wildly different now as Cardiff, on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run under McCarthy, including five successive wins, appear to be storming their way confidently on a path that could – whisper it – lead back to the Premier League.

When he took over last month, Cardiff had lost six in a row, and relegation was a real worry, so McCarthy’s initial task was to steady a sinking ship and make sure, above all else, that they stayed in the division. Now, they could escape the Championship, as a win against Bournemouth tonight could take them into the play-off places.

Some are surprised at how well McCarthy has done in Wales. But those who worked with him expected it, as he ignored the doubters and proved his age was not a barrier to success.

“That reaction wouldn’t have bothered Mick one bit,” says Stephen Ward, currently playing for one of McCarthy’s former clubs, Ipswich Town, but who has a warm relationship with McCarthy, back to their days together at Wolves.

“I am never surprised when it comes to Mick, he just has that aura about him, he’s always been successful in getting teams promoted. He gets a team back to the basics, working hard, running, fighting for every ball. You can see that the Cardiff players have reacted to that. “What I found with Mick at Wolves was his ability to get the best out of his squad. We didn’t have the most talented squad at Wolves, but he got the best out of us as players. And Cardiff is the same.”

Daryl Murphy worked with McCarthy twice, at Sunderland and Ipswich. About to turn 38 on his next birthday, Murphy is carrying on his own playing career, with Waterford FC, in the 2021 season, so he is keen to play down the importance put on age and he feels there’s clearly a place for a sixty-something like McCarthy.

“It makes me laugh when people say he’s a dinosaur, look at his record in getting clubs promoted. I know the trend now is for younger managers but if you want to get promoted you need someone like Mick, someone who has been there and done it,” says Murphy.

“And don’t be surprised if he gets Cardiff into the play-offs. They are on a good run, I’d imagine the place is buzzing, compared to where they were a few weeks ago.”

Former Sunderland player Stephen Elliott is now working in the media so he understands how commentary on social media or the airwaves can take hold and set the agenda, so he’s impressed with how McCarthy has dealt with that.

“Mick’s not a dinosaur. He’s only 61, he’s not ancient, he’s still clued in to the game, and he has good people around him, like Terry Connor, a great coach,” says Elliott.

“Some of the commentary is very harsh, it’s easy to say the game has moved on, but it hasn’t. You can come up with any tactics you want but you need players to buy into those tactics, you need a relationship with the players and there’s no one better at that than Mick. It’s harsh, and lazy, to throw out labels and I’m delighted he has done well.”

Just how McCarthy turned a losing side into one with a winning habit is the big puzzle but those who played under him claim it’s a simple recipe.

“I know how he works. He’d have gone in there at Cardiff, given the place a lift, lifted the players, put an arm around the shoulder of some players who were maybe lacking confidence as they’d been having a hard time of it, and he just feeds you that confidence; he just gets the best out of players,” Murphy feels.

“I know people look in from the outside and say, ‘How does he do it?’. He just gets the best out of players, it’s as simple as that. He makes you feel so comfortable and you know what you get with Mick. I have always said, he’s the best in the business at man-management.

“I loved working with Mick as I wanted to give everything for him because I knew he’d repay that, that, you don’t want to disappoint him, and Cardiff are getting the benefits of that,” Murphy added. Stephen Elliott felt more of a personal connection with his boss at Sunderland.

“When you play for Mick, you want to do well for him, first and foremost. You can talk about tactics, and tactics are important, but it doesn’t matter what your tactics or philosophy are, you need players who are willing to do what is asked of them and Mick has that in abundance,” says Elliott, who won a Championship title at Sunderland under McCarthy.

“The thing about Mick, compared to other managers, is that he’s always honest with you and that’s if you’re doing well or doing terrible. He tells you how it is. I have been there with managers who drop you and say, ‘You’ll get your chance, you are doing everything right’, maybe tell you what you want to hear. When he dropped me, he was brutally honest but you know where you stand and you appreciate that.

“He had a decent squad at Cardiff, better than their league position suggested when he took over, he’s gone in and given the players belief.”

Ward also speaks of the simplicity of McCarthyism. “He knew how to lift a dressing-room,” he says. “He simplifies things. The year we got promoted at Wolves we had a bad spell but Mick just kept it simple: work hard.”

Current Cardiff player Will Vaulks said this week that McCarthy had made City “horrible to play against”, a boast that Murphy can back up.

“When I was at Ipswich with Mick, lads I knew at other clubs would say they hated coming to play us, and it’s a compliment to say that,” says Murphy.

Elliott was in a McCarthy team promoted from the Premier League and he can see a possible repeat. “Cardiff needed an immediate reaction, they were falling down the table,” Elliott says.

“Now, you wouldn’t put it past Mick to keep up this run to the end of the season.”

AFC Bournemouth v Cardiff City,

Live, Sky Sports (red button), 7.45

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