IAN EVANS takes charge of his first game as Republic of Ireland under 21 manager for the friendly with their Russian counterparts at United Park tonight (7.30) unsure of only one person's continued involvement with the team - his own.
This clearly isn't ideal, not from his viewpoint, not from that of the under-21 Is themselves, and not, should it be overlooked, from Mick McCarthy's. The FAI's desire to employ full time, under age managers of their own choosing was entirely understanding given the Maurice Setters experience. But there are strong arguments for granting McCarthy his man.
In this, significantly, McCarthy is strongly supported by three of his predecessors, Liam Tuohy, Eoin Hand and Johnny Giles, all of whom stress the need for the senior manager to have under age managers whom he can trust implicitly. (And McCarthy has known Evans for 17 years). All of them emphasise the need to have someone who will willingly duplicate the style and systems employed by the senior team, and in so doing provide stronger links between the two.
Accordingly, Evans will use the same 3-5-2 formation which McCarthy will unveil 24 hours later at Lansdowne Road. Evans declined to reveal its exact makeup, not least perhaps because the management and the under 21 players are at what he calls the "suck it and see" stage.
But word form within the camp is that Evans has already made a striking impression. In contrast to the previous regime, the players are not condemned for failing in trying things, merely for failing to try things. A former centre half with Crystal Palace and QPR, and still employed in Millwall's school of excellence for 10 to 14 year olds, Evans has missed the day to day involvement. "The boredom," he says of the last two months, "has been killing me." But he has been excited by the prospect of the challenges.
The indications are that the 1992 Meath All Ireland minor winner, Wimbledon goalkeeper Brendan Murphy, will be one of the 12 newcomers granted a debut. There will be a splattering of experience, with Mark Kennedy possibly employed in a free role from midfield, while another relatively forgotten young talent, Andy Turner, is expected to partner the highly touted Norwich Dubliner, Keith O'Neill, up front.