Millwall fans are split in two over the blame for relegation in 1995/96. It is the event that casts a shadow over McCarthy's reign, yet it happen three months after he left. 

When McCarthy left Millwall, in early February after a protracted appointment as Ireland manager, Millwall were in 9th place in the division, 5 points off a promotion place, outside the playoff zone only on goal difference and a comfortable 14 points clear of the relegation zone.

It's often argued that Millwall had been in such a slump in December, where they lost 5 straight games, that relegation was a certainty. Others put the blame firmly at Jimmy Nicholl's feet and say that under McCarthy we would never of gone down. 

McCarthy's Playing Days

Love him or loath him, Mick McCarthy was a central figure at Millwall for six years and his media friendly personality meant Millwall got a lot of publicity for the football rather than other things.

Mick McCarthy started out with Barnsley before playing for Man City and Celtic and Olympique Lyon. He arrived at the Den in March 1990 when Millwall were in freefall heading towards relegation from the old First Division. Docherty and McLintock had been sacked and Chief Scout Bob Pearson was put in charge until the end of the season although the fact that he was only a Caretaker Manager was kept secret.

The Millwall defence, although not leaking 3 or 4's were giving away 1 or 2 goals each game, had the second worst goals against total and a Central defender was urgently required. McCarthy was keen to return to England to boost his World Cup hopes, after undergoing his third Knee operation, he had not started a game for Lyon since the new year. The signing of the 31 year old was drawn out over two weeks, Reg Burr saying: "Mick seems keen to join us, but the main problem is the fee which keeps shooting up and down like a yo-yo. Nothing has been finalised yet." 

Eventually, with doubts over his fitness, Millwall signed him on loan till the end of the season, rather than parting with the 500,000 Olympique Lyon wanted.

McCarthy was an unused sub for the home game v Everton, which Millwall lost to a late Tony Cottee goal, after an error by Wood. McCarthy was given his debut away at Luton and marked it with an Own Goal.  However he could not be blamed for it was a driven corner that went through Branagan's hands and hit McCarthy in face and went in. Although relishing being back in English football, he admitted his style of play was not the best for a plastic pitch joking: "I was like Bambi on ice."

The signings of McCarthy and Allen however did not turn around Millwall's fortunes and they were relegated in bottom position and new manager Rioch decided to sign McCarthy full time. He made Lyon an offer and Lyon Chairman decided to sell against the advice of his coach Barnard Leconde. The fee has been quoted as being 200,000 in some quarters and as high as 340,000 in other. McCarthy signed a 2 year contract and said: "I was playing in the French Third Division and that is not good enough to play for Ireland." 

              

McCarthy did indeed revive his World Cup hopes, being called up for friendlies against the USSR in April and Finland and Turkey in May. While Mick was named in Jack Charlton  squad, Millwall teammate Garry Waddock suffered the heartbreak of being the last player cut from the squad. McCarthy had a great World cup, Captaining Ireland to the Quarter finals where they lost 1-0 to host nation Italy and meeting the Pope and kissing his ring.

However at the start of the new season, McCarthy picked up an injury and was forced to sit on the sidelines as Millwall made a good start to the season. Mick said: "I've got no complaints, Steve Wood and Alan McLeary have been playing well and there's no way the manager could leave them out. All I can do is put as much pressure on them as possible and hopefully I'll get a chance before too long. I don't want to spend all season on the bench. It's frustrating because I was really fired up after the World Cup but then I picked up a knee injury and in trying to protect it I pulled a thigh muscle. That cost me my place and now I'm having to work to get it back."

Despite sitting out Millwall's first 12 games, Mick was called up and Captained Ireland in their 5-0 win over Turkey in Dublin. This was enough to earn Mick a call up for the game away at Notts County in a back three and a clean sheet was earned. However a bad defeat at home to Bristol City with the defence at sixes and sevens led Rioch to drop McCarthy for the next game, which Millwall won 4-2 at home to Sheff Wed.

In November, McCarthy was to captain Ireland again, winning his 50th Cap, against England in the Euro 92 Qualifiers. On his call up he said: "If I can't get my backside up from the sub's bench and raise myself in an International against England, I've got to have my head seeing to. The problem for me will not be leaving the Millwall bench, it will be all about going back to it." McCarthy played well and subdued  Gary Lineker in a 1-1 draw in Dublin.

McCarthy soon got a first team recall on the back of his International form, but picked up another injury after a bruising battle with Devon White." It hurts when 14 stone lands on" said McCarthy with two Ice packs on his strained calf. Showing his future managerial credentials, he defended Gary Waddock, "Fans pay their money and have a right to have a go. But it is not fair to single out Gary, because he is playing well. Gary laughs and jokes about it, but that's the only thing you can do, if you don't top yourself."

McCarthy was to be out till late February when he returned against Oxford at the Manor Ground. He said: "It's been a nightmare, when I was fit I couldn't get in the side and as soon as I did get a place I picked up this injury." After the game he said: "I'm shattered, I feel like I've been hit by a bus. Millwall have treated me superbly and being out for so long was starting to get a bit embarrassing." By now it had become a running joke with the fans that Mick timed his recovery form Injury around Ireland matches and  Ireland were due at Wembley in March.

The next match was against an even more robust team, Bristrol Rovers, where McCarthy's rematch with Devon White was likened to a navvies brawl.

In an Interview for Football Today McCarthy said of Millwall Fans: "They're partisan. They want you to do well and there's plenty of passion. There's a hardcore of regular supporters and believe me, you know they're there. If you're playing well they'll tell you and if you're playing badly, they tell you. They like a trier, do Millwall supporters."

McCarthy return was not to be long lived, ending in the 10th minute of his third game back, with Mick limping off damaged knee ligaments, ruining his chances of playing for Ireland at Wembley.

After just over a month out, Mick returned to the side in the match at Hull. However Millwall keeper Keith Branagan was carried off injured after 18 mins and Mick McCarthy went in goal. Mick said "The boss came over straight away and asked me if I would go in goal. I think it's just because I was the biggest and ugliest available. It was my first game for nearly two months and I figured that going in goal had to be easier than playing in defence. I felt pretty confident even though it was the first time I've ever played in goal. The rest of the lads were tremendous though. They worked really hard and I didn't have that much to do." Mick's goal remained in tact and a goal by Paul Kerr earned Millwall a vital point. Perhaps Mick's heroics in goal were no surprise as he is unbeatable when wearing a green shirt!

to be continued.....

 

 

 

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