Mick McCarthy admits his heart was in his mouth when the Republic of Ireland were drawn alongside the Netherlands and Germany at Dublin’s Convention Centre.
There were gasps around the docksides building as it appeared Ireland were to suffer the ‘group of death’ in qualification for Euro 2020 which, for the first time, will see games staged in the capital.
And it was Dublin’s status as a host city – one of 11 across Europe in a one-off event to celebrate the competition’s 60th anniversary – that saved McCarthy’s side the roughest possible draw.
As both Amsterdam and Munich are set to host games, UEFA’s rule that no more than two host cities can contest the same group meant Ireland were moved to the more modest Group D.
Instead, Northern Ireland were drawn into what both McCarthy and Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill described as the ‘group of death.’
The Republic will instead face UEFA Nations League semi-finalists Switzerland, Denmark, Georgia and Gibraltar with the top two going straight into the finals.
The Boys in Green will kick things off in McCarthy’s first game in charge away to Gibraltar, either in the statelet or their regular base of Faro in Portugal, before Georgia visit the Aviva Stadium.
“Everybody who was still in that pot were thinking they were going to be in that group and you heard the reaction to it,” a relieved McCarthy said after the draw.
“It’s like the old cliché ‘Group of Death’ everybody thought.
“I laughed because I was fully expecting to be in that group, being sod’s law, you think you will get it.
“And then because it’s in Dublin, somebody will be thinking there was some skulduggery going on somewhere.
“I don’t know why, it was like someone with their magic fingers on the laptop shifted us to, I guess, a collective sigh of relief.
“But it is a bit of a premature sign of relief when you have got Switzerland and Denmark in the group.”
There’s a degree of familiarity between two of the sides in the group and Ireland, and the manager will have a tough job to get the time ready without any friendly games in the lead-in.
Ireland have faced Denmark four times in just over a year, with a 5-1 defeat in Dublin ending Martin O’Neill’s World Cup dreams and a scoreless draw last month proving to be his last as coach.
Georgia have now been drawn in Ireland’s group for the last three qualifying campaigns and, somewhat ominously, have improved each time and got their first ever drawn in Tbilisi last time out.
“I haven’t [played against them] but the lads will have played against them so maybe it will be a good thing. It’s a different competition.
“If you’re playing in a league, every year you play the same teams. You go back and play them every year. So do you get familiar with them? I don’t think you have to change things.
“If anybody’s taking us for granted or will treat us with a bit of contempt, as I’ve just been asked about Denmark, I don’t think for one minute anyone will.”
Danish assistant manager Jon Dahl Tomasson admitted his side were pleased with their draw and to be coming back to Dublin once more.
He said: “I enjoy coming back. It’s a lovely place.
“I always look at possibilities. I’m always positive and I believe in our strength in ourselves regardless of which team we are playing.”