Cascarino boost for McCarthy

The Republic of Ireland have to do without Paul McGrath for their important Group Eight qualifier in the Macedonian capital of Skopje tonight, but they were given a boost last night by Tony Cascarino.

The 33-year-old Nancy striker passed a fitness test on his injured hamstring but their manager, Mick McCarthy, is waiting to see if there is any reaction today before can win a 68th cap. Cascarino scored twice against Macedonia in the 3-0 win in Dublin in October.

McCarthy is also waiting on Steve Staunton, who has a calf strain, and striker Keith O'Neill has only just returned to action for Norwich after a long lay-off with ankle damage. "I just want to see if there is any reaction in the morning," McCarthy said yesterday. "But they've all come through everything today and I don't honestly expect another problem."

O'Neill, despite four goals in eight internationals, might have to start on the bench, with Wimbledon's Jon Goodman, who won his first cap in the friendly against Wales in February, partnering Cascarino up front.

Ireland are likely to play a 3-5-2 formation with Coventry's Gary Breen replacing the injured McGrath in the middle of the back line, flanked by Denis Irwin and Staunton. With skipper Andy Townsend and Manchester United's Roy Keane the likely midfield axis and Liverpool's Jason McAteer now seemingly established at right- back, it is a choice between Alan McLoughlin, Ian Harte and Terry Phelan for two of the other three positions.

Macedonia scored 11 against the group's makeweights Liechtenstein, and apart from two defeats against the group leaders, Romania, they also managed a draw against Iceland, as did the Irish in November.

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