Without even addressing the Football Assocation of Ireland’s (FAI) performance – with regard to the cronyism exposed in the 2002 Genesis Report, the running of the League of Ireland, the underhandedness (in the Irish Football Association’s eyes) of recruiting players who played at a youth level for Northern Ireland, and the Aviva Stadium ticket scheme – 2000-2010 was the most controversial decade in Ireland’s competitive history.
The qualifying successes of the 1990s, where Jack Charlton’s management and the Grannygate rule aided Ireland’s cause in qualifying for two World Cups, led to Ireland fans growing in hope and expectation of the Boys in Green – particularly with so many of Ireland’s players playing first-team and top-level football in England.
However, the ecstasy of Jason McAteer’s 67th minute volley against the Netherlands at Lansdowne Road on 1 September 2001, the euphoria of U2’s rendition of ‘New Years Day’ and reference to the goal at Slane Castle on the same day, and Ireland’s progress into the last-16 of the 2002 World Cup were overshadowed by the Civil War-like divide that gripped the nation between the Keanites and the pro-McCarthyites. Such was the tension, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, looked to send Roy Keane a private jet to bring him back to Saipan while Keane was, typically, aloof as he near-incessantly walked his dog Triggs in Manchester. Two years later and despite climbing to 12th position in the FIFA rankings in December 2004 under new manager Brian Kerr, who controversially recalled Keane, Ireland missed out on Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 due to their inability to hold leads in competitive games – as was seen against Russia (2) and Switzerland in 2002/2003, and against Switzerland and Israel (2) in 2004/2005.
Kerr’s replacement, and Ireland’s former record cap holder, Steve Staunton, failed to inspire Ireland to Euro 2008 qualification, which included an abysmal 5-2 loss against Cyprus in Nicosia, and the Stephen Ireland affair epitomised the chaos that had gripped the Ireland set-up. The machine-like success of the Giovanni Trapattoni era, where Ireland’s record reads 15 wins (11 competitive), 12 draws (8 competitive) and 9 losses (2 competitive) out of 36 games under the Italian, has seen Ireland’s defence and tactical organisation grow dramatically – but at the cost of a dour playing style. Despite this, the unity and passion that Ireland displayed in equalising France’s 1-0 advantage in the 2009 World Cup playoff, and the controversy of Thierry Henry’s blatant handball pass to William Gallas, which denied Ireland a penalty shootout against a French team under immense pressure from a hostile Stade de France crowd, proved how much Ireland have grown since the Staunton years. However, with uncertainty surrounding the 72 year old Trapattoni’s future and businessman Dennis O’Brien’s investment in a future contract, Ireland are entering a decade of unprecedented transition.
Although Shay Given has just signed a five-year contract with Aston Villa, doubts remain about whether the 37 year old would be able to commit to both club and country beyond 2012. It seems unlikely, judging by Given’s recent performances for Ireland and for Aston Villa in pre-season, that Ireland will face a dilemma akin to when the then 36 year old fans’ favourite Packie Bonner dramatically lost form going into the 1995/1996 season, so this will make it an even tougher decision for Ireland’s most-capped player. Although the situation does not appear as worrying as it did just a few years ago, when veterans Dean Kiely and Paddy Kenny were the only alternatives to Given, Sunderland’s Keiren Westwood (26) looks the only adept and imminent replacement for the Donegal man.
Strong in the air, a brilliant shot-stopper and growing in confidence in the command of his area, Westwood’s performance in the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia in Dublin, and his brilliant save from Ivan Trickovski at the death, proved that as Given put it, “Ireland are in safe hands.” His move to Sunderland will improve his game, as he is battling with the injured Craig Gordon and the hot prospect Simon Mignolet for a starting berth and from Steve Bruce’s pre-season selections, it looks like the Irishman will be given the chance to prove himself as Sunderland’s number one. Boaz Myhill’s arrival at Birmingham City has denied the once highly-rated 26 year old Colin Doyle a starting berth, as was the case when Maik Taylor and Ben Foster were at the club, and it remains to be seen whether the Irishman will look to move away from St.Andrews. Joe Murphy (29), who dazzled under John Aldridge at Tranmere, has replaced Westwood at Coventry City, while 31 year old David Forde, a Trapattoni favourite, remains Millwall’s first-choice keeper. Darren Randolph (24), who excelled on his debut for Charlton against Liverpool in 2007, has impressed at Motherwell, where he claimed a club record fifteen clean sheets last season, and could yet develop into a Premier League player.
Ireland’s underbelly of young goalkeepers looks exciting – particularly 19 year old Aaron McCarey of Wolves, who has just been called up to Noel King’s under-21 squad. McCarey greatly impressed in the under-19 European Championships in Romania, having been the only player to have played in every minute of all of Ireland’s qualifiers, and his club manager, Mick McCarthy, has claimed that he would have “no hesitation in using Aaron if Wayne Hennessey or Dorus de Vries got injured.” McCarey’s understudy at the tournament, Sean McDermott (18), impressed so much with the under-18s that he was brought forward a year for the European Championships, and is currently Steve Bould’s first-choice goalkeeper for Arsenal’s under-18s. McCarey’s under-21 understudy, 19 year old Ian McLoughlin, has just been signed by MK Dons after being released by Ipswich, but after managing to keep the experienced Matt Glennon out of the Stockport County team during a six-month loan spell in February 2011, the youngster could certainly develop into a decent goalkeeper.
The fact that Steve Finnan’s injury-blighted two years generally went unnoticed, after his last appearance for Ireland against Montenegro in 2008, is testament to the consistency of John O’Shea (30) at right-back. Having been wrongly deployed as a left-back under Staunton, to accommodate the strong pairing of Finnan and O’Shea on the flanks, the Waterford man has become one of Ireland’s most reliable players. As well as being one of Ireland’s most decorated players of all-time, with 5 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 1 FA Cup, 3 League Cups and 4 Community Shields, O’Shea has shown admirable courage in leaving Manchester United, where he was highly-rated by Sir Alex Ferguson, for a starting-berth at Sunderland.
With at least three good international years left in him, O’Shea’s position is not under any serious threat. However, Ireland’s options at right-back are becoming increasingly impressive. With David Moyes planning to use the marauding 22 year old Seamus Coleman, one of the revelations of last season’s Premier League as a right winger, in Coleman’s natural position of right-back in the future, once he recovers from his torn ankle ligament injury sustained in pre-season, Ireland have a future star who may well eventually force Trapattoni into moving O’Shea into the centre of defence to accommodate the Sligoman. Wolves’ Kevin Foley (26) also impressed in recent appearances for Ireland, particularly in the Carling Nations Cup, and along with Fulham’s 27 year old Stephen Kelly, is a solid alternative to O’Shea. Matthew Doherty (19), who was signed on impulse by McCarthy after impressing in a pre-season match for Bohemians against Wolves in 2010, looked very assured in the under-19 European Championships and like Celtic’s 20 year old right-back Richie Towell, could have a groundbreaking season.
Despite Kevin Kilbane’s consistent performances over the past fourteen years (less so in recent seasons) and his obvious love of playing for the Boys in Green, many fans have lamented Trapattoni’s selection of the 34 year old at left-back – particularly with other top-level alternatives. There is no doubting that Kilbane’s run of 66 consecutive competitive starts for Ireland is an incredible achievement, but 25 year old Stephen Ward of Wolves impressed in Kilbane’s absence in the Carling Nations Cup and in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia in Skopje. Possessing a more exciting and marauding style than Kilbane, Ward has surely proved himself as first-choice – despite Kilbane’s recent loan move to Championship side Derby County.
Manchester City’s Greg Cunningham (20) looked very composed in his three appearances for Ireland in the friendlies against Brazil, Algeria and Argentina but had an unfortunate leg break on loan at Leicester City, and is only now nearing the end of his recovery. Leeds United’s hot prospect, 19 year old Aidan White, has just declared for Ireland and has been included in Noel King’s under-21 squad for the friendly against Austria. While it seems unlikely that Trapattoni will ever call-up a League of Ireland player, Shamrock Rovers’ Enda Stevens (21) has impressed and was easily Rovers’ man of the match in the Champions League Playoff second-leg against Copenhagen, where his overlapping runs and low crosses put the Danes under immense pressure in the first-half. 23 year old Conor Powell has recently signed with Sligo Rovers and Trapattoni is a known admirer of the Dubliner from Powell’s time at Bohemians.
A Given-like dilemma faces Ireland with 31 year old Richard Dunne: Ireland’s most dogged and committed (on-the-field) centre-back since Paul McGrath. It is no coincidence that Dunne is so often voted Ireland’s man of the match, with his brick-wall like traits proving crucial to Ireland’s tight defence under Trapattoni. His Aston Villa team-mate, Ciaran Clark (21), shined under Gerard Houllier but faces a defining season in convincing Trapattoni of his merits as a centre-back. 26 year old Sean St Ledger’s move to Leicester may finally give him the deserved platform of Premier League football – following his consistent displays for Ireland over the past three years.
With regard to potential Irish centre-backs, Everton’s Shane Duffy (21), whose father is from Donegal, seems an obvious candidate. After a bitter wrangling with the IFA, which was the catalyst for the IFA taking the FAI to the Court of Arbitration of Sport in 2011, and an amazing two-week recovery from a life-threatening laceration of his liver suffered at an Irish training camp in May 2008, Duffy has already proven himself as an incredible individual. However, having made just one senior appearance last season on loan at Burnley, having failed to break into Everton’s first-team, this will be a key season for Duffy to prove himself in David Moyes’ long-term plans. Derby’s 18 year old Mark O’Brien, who underwent heart surgery to correct a valve problem at 16, featured in Derby’s opening game against Birmingham City and could be a prospect along with Bolton’s Mark Connolly (19), who cost Bolton £1 million from Wolves in 2009.
Eyebrows were raised when 25 year old Aiden McGeady plumped for Spartak Moscow, rather than holding out for a seemingly imminent bid from Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City. However, playing in a better league, compared to Scotland, with a new climate and new surroundings has certainly benefited McGeady. With many fearing it would either take him a while to adjust to Russia or that he would not settle at all, McGeady has netted 4 goals and 16 assists in 33 games for Spartak. Despite joining mid-season last year, he was voted as the league’s second best right-winger behind Zenit’s Vladimir Bystrov, and his renewed consistency and contentment have shown for Ireland since the move. McGeady’s form for Ireland of late is of start contrast to that of Liam Lawrence (29). Lawrence, who managed an impressive 8 goals in 32 games for Portsmouth last season, seems to have fallen out of favour with Trapattoni after a serious of below-par performances for Ireland in recent months.
From this, Lawrence could find his right-wing position in the squad under threat from Norwich’s new signing, 23 year old Anthony Pilkington. While Pilkington has not formally confirmed his eligibility for the Boys in Green, he has played for Ireland’s under-21s and his dazzling displays for Huddersfield Town last season will surely have alerted Trapattoni. Former Galway United star, Jay O’Shea (23), was released by Birmingham in the summer and has since signed for MK Dons. O’Shea greatly impressed for Ireland’s under-21s in recent years and dazzled in the League of Ireland, but ultimately failed to break into Birmingham’s first-team. Another exciting Irish right-winger, Donal McDermott (21), was released by Manchester City and has been signed by Huddersfield as Pilkington’s replacement.
Another one of Ireland’s golden generation, the tender 32 year old Damien Duff, is likely to retire from international football after Euro 2012 to focus on his playing career with Fulham. While the thought of replacing Duff would have been unimaginable just a few seasons ago, Ireland look well covered. Stephen Hunt (30) has finally shaken off his ‘impact sub’ tag with Ireland, after some spirited starting displays in 2011. 22 year old Keith Treacy and 24 year old Jonny Hayes have both started their seasons promisingly, with Burnley and Inverness respectively. Robbie Brady (19) is one of Manchester United’s most exciting Academy prospects and is currently a starter on loan at Hull City. Brady starred in Ireland u-21’s victory over Austria on Tuesday night, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win.
22 year old James McClean, who has just joined Sunderland, controversially pulled out of Northern Ireland’s squad against the Faroe Islands after Nigel Worthington said he would not play the Derry man. From this, McClean immediately declared for the Republic and joins Darron Gibson in having no parents or grandparents from the Republic, yet is eligible through birthright. Daniel Kearns (19), once of West Ham and a member of Ireland’s under-21 squad, is easily one of the most skillful and exciting players in the League of Ireland but like McClean, he may have to take the ‘magic plane,’ amid interest from a host of Championship clubs.
The centre of midfield has been a serious weakness for Ireland under Trapattoni and without being able to call upon the likes of Steven Reid, the Boys in Green have been shorn of quality. With Gibson (23) refusing to follow John O’Shea to Sunderland, reportedly because they would not offer him £50,000 a week, it is likely that he will spend another season of playing in ‘lesser’ games – particularly with the emergence of Tom Cleverley and the return of Anderson ahead of the Irishman, which leaves Gibson at best, fifth choice behind the above mentioned and Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Trapattoni’s preference for non-creative midfielders has the led to the emergence of 27 year old Glenn Whelan, who Trapattoni claims is his Genaro Gattuso, and 30 year old Keith Andrews. Whelan certainly has grown into the role with some spirited displays but when placed alongside the similarly industrious Andrews, Ireland badly lack a creative presence.
Keith Fahey (28) has filled in well and Chris McCann’s (24) return from injury at Burnley will surely be welcomed, but question marks remain over Marc Wilson’s (23) and James McCarthy’s (20) commitment to the Irish set-up. Both Wilson and McCarthy pulled out of the friendly against Croatia with niggling injuries, but this is a familiar theme with the pair – who in the future, could brilliantly complement each other with Wilson’s industry and McCarthy’s creative talents. Trapattoni’s stubbornness, with regard to creative players, has led to the striking omission of 29 year old Wes Hoolahan, who was one of Norwich’s key players in their promotion to the Premier League. Having already played for Trapattoni in a friendly against Colombia in 2008, Hoolahan’s omission may be rooted in Trapattoni being ‘stung’ by Andy Reid, who Trapattoni found too much of a luxury player – which was not helped by the Irishman’s late-night guitar session four nights before the World Cup qualifier against Georgia in September 2008.
It will be a big season for David Meyler (22), who has had horrific luck with injuries in the past 12 months: two cruciate knee ligament injuries to his right knee. Fitting the Trapattoni mould perfectly, as the new Patrick Vieira in the words of Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn, Meyler faces a tough battle with the likes of Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner, David Vaughan and Jack Colback for a starting position at the Stadium of Light. Conor Clifford (19), who captained Chelsea to their first FA Youth Cup success for 49 years in 2010, and was a late call-up for the friendly against Croatia, certainly has great potential with his energy, leadership and bullet-like shot.
19 year old Jeff Hendrick impressed at the under-19 European Championships, leading to a call-up to the under-21s, and has been promoted to Derby’s first-team by Nigel Clough for the 2011/2012 season. Conor Henderson (19), who was certain to be involved with Arsenal’s first-team after been tipped as a future prospect by Arsène Wenger, suffered an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury in a pre-season start against FC Köln – a recurrence of the same injury that ruled him out of the 2008/2009 campaign. Seventeen year old Sean Murray of Watford is a talented creative midfielder, who was once a target of Manchester City, and will be involved in Watford’s first-team for 2011/2012.
Despite struggling for club consistency in the past three seasons and not looking like the fox-in-the-box he once was, a six-month loan spell at Celtic in 2010 apart, captain Robbie Keane (31) is still Ireland’s most reliable goalscorer – netting 19 goals in 30 games under Trapattoni. There is no doubting that he will leave Tottenham this summer, with the likes of Blackburn and Fulham interested, which can only benefit Keane’s international exploits. However, like with Duff, Ireland look well prepared for the day their record goalscorer retires. Obviously, 27 year old Kevin Doyle is one of the most enthusiastic and hard-working frontmen in international football and while his endeavour can never be questioned, Doyle is a complete forward, not noted of late for his goalscoring exploits, who works at his most effective best in tandem with a goalscoring striker.
Shane Long (24) has developed into a complete yet potent striker, following his 25 goals in 50 games last season, and looks worthy of West Brom’s £6.5 million transfer fee. Fellow team-mate, 24 year old Simon Cox, proved a masterstroke selection by Trapattoni and under Roy Hodgson, is beginning to show the prolific form he showcased at Swindon Town in 2008/2009. Newcastle’s Leon Best (24), who just recovered from a lengthy lay-off from a ruptured ankle injury, failed to find the net in 7 appearances for the Boys in Green but filling in for Andy Carroll, his 6 goals in 11 games for Newcastle last season proved his goalscoring ability at the highest level. Doubts remain about Stoke’s Jonathan Walters (27) and Celtic’s Anthony Stokes (22) and their commitment to Ireland, following frequent withdrawls from friendly internationals, but Ireland already have the perfect mix of goals, pace and hold-up play in Keane, Doyle, Long and Cox.
19 year old Sean Scannell has been used mainly as an inside right forward at Crystal Palace, due to his incredible pace, but once his goalscoring exploits improve, Scannell could be an explosive striker. Adam Rooney (23) proved himself as an adept finisher with Inverness, having scored 21 goals in 42 games in all competitions last season, and follows the well-trodden path of SPL strikers testing the waters in the Championship – with Rooney moving to Birmingham in June. 20 year old Joe Mason impressed for Plymouth last season and moved to Cardiff City during the summer. Michael Drennan (17), who incidentally possesses equally promising hurling ability, is the latest highly-rated product of Aston Villa’s acclaimed Academy and the striker has been prolific for Villa’s under-18s. 18 year old Conor Murphy of Bray Wanderers has flourished in the League of Ireland this season, netting 8 goals, and led Ireland’s line brilliantly in the under-19 European Championships.
Despite Trapattoni’s playing style, tactics, player relations and squad selections being criticised over the past three years, there is no doubting that Ireland have progressed under the Italian. Conceding late goals in competitive games, apart from Alberto Gilardino’s last-minute equaliser in the 2-2 draw in October 2009, has become a thing of the past and while Ireland have failed to shake off their ‘characteristic’ nervousness when they take an early lead, their defensive shape has been the best it has been for years.
Even though Trapattoni has shown a willingness to manage Ireland for their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, which looks incredibly testing with Germany, Sweden and Austria among those in Group C, and atone for the heartbreaking loss against France in 2009, it remains to be seen whether the FAI will offer the Italian an extension to his bumper deal – particularly if Ireland fail to make Euro 2012. Perhaps the FAI’s caution is testament to the effective job Trapattoni has done, in raising Ireland’s expectations again, but either way, the Italian has left a template and legacy that can be built on. Who builds on it, whether after Euro 2012 or after World Cup 2014 will be crucial. The FAI can ill-afford to gamble on a checkered or unproven manager, but finances and budgets may be the deciding factor.
The Irish Option
Liam Brady (55), while impressing as Arsenal’s Head of Youth Development and being popular with the Irish players from his stint as assistant coach from 2008-2010, had unsuccessful managerial spells with Celtic (1991-1993) and Brighton and Hove Albion (1993-1995), and his surprising departure from Trapattoni’s set-up in 2010 suggested that the FAI did not value his contribution wholeheartedly. 53 year old David O’Leary, who ultimately had mixed managerial spells at both Leeds United (1998-2002) and Aston Villa (2003-2006), was recently sacked as manager of Dubai side Al-Alhi and even with the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Luis Jiménez and Grafite at his disposal, O’Leary had a mixed seven games in charge (three wins, two draws, two losses).
Mick McCarthy (52), who has seen his stock rise with Wolves, would be welcomed back by a large section of Irish fans, who in hindsight, after eight years since his last match in charge of the Boys in Green, realise what an achievement both 2002 World Cup qualification and the admirable unity the Irish team displayed in the tournament were. 52 year old Chris Hughton would also appear to be a popular choice and although he was harshly treated at Newcastle, his managerial career and credentials will be judged on how he leads Birmingham through dire financial circumstances. Owen Coyle (45), who was capped once by Ireland in 1994, did a fantastic job with Burnley and apart from a late-season slide last year, has worked wonders with Bolton. However, the next logical step for Coyle would presumably be a ‘bigger’ club than Bolton, rather than an international job.
Sean O’Driscoll (54), capped three times between 1983 and 1984, guided Doncaster Rovers to a surprise promotion to the Championship in 2008, their first ever promotion to the second-tier, and has kept Rovers in the league since. His attractive style of football has won him plaudits but O’Driscoll would surely require Premier League experience before he could be considered. Although McCarthy will be in contention, it seems implausible that 58 year old Brian Kerr would be – despite his admirable performance with the Faroe Islands. Following Kerr’s acrimonious fall-out with the Irish media, who he viewed as over-intrusive, and his disappointment in his contract not being renewed in 2005, Kerr surely would not be considered.
It seems equally unlikely that the FAI will make a domestic appointment, that is, either a manager from the underage levels or a manager from a League of Ireland team. However, Paul Doolin (48) did a stellar job with the under-19s at the European Championships and was the mastermind behind Drogheda United’s unprecedented success between 2005 and 2007. 55 year old Noel King, who worked under Jack Charlton at the 1990 World Cup, also has a decent chance – if he can maintain his great start with the under-21s, following his impressive leadership of the Irish Women’s under-17s team. League of Ireland wise, Pat Fenlon (41) was the most successful domestic manager of the last decade and has previously managed Ireland’s under-23 team and 39 year old Stephen Kenny has impressed in spells with Bohemians, Dunfermline and Derry City but like Fenlon, a lack of experience managing in the UK for an extended period will count against the League of Ireland managers (Englishman Paul Cook and Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill included).
Names such as Gareth Southgate (40), Alan Curbishley (53), Gordon Strachan (54), Philip Troussier (56), Steve Coppell (56), Lars Lagerback (63), Sven-Göran Eriksson (63) and Terry Venables (68) will be bizarre early bookies favourites and while the likes of Guus Hiddink (64) may prove too difficult and expensive to tempt, there are a handful of non-Irish managers that could be available, and could do a good job. Marco Tardelli (56) is likely to throw his ring into the hat, given his close ties with Trapattoni, his decent English and popularity with the players, but like Brady, his early and now distant managerial career will probably count against the Italian. An impressive spell as manager of Italy’s under-21 team from 1998-2000, where Italy won the European Championships, was overshadowed by his following job: a disastrous season-long stint at Internazionale from 2000-2001. Being associated with the Trapattoni era may also count against Tardelli – if the FAI plan a fresh approach.
63 year old Roy Hodgson, while having mixed spells at larger clubs like Blackburn, Internazionale and Liverpool, has excelled with so-called ‘smaller’ teams like Malmo, Switzerland, Copenhagen, Finland, Fulham and West Brom. His record at international level has been particularly encouraging too: qualifying the Swiss for World Cup 1994 and Euro 96, and narrowly missing out on Euro 2008 with Finland. However, Hodgson’s tactics have often been deemed cautious and bordering on negative, particularly at Liverpool, but there is no doubting his success with underdog-like teams. Graeme Souness (58) has grown in popularity with the Irish public, due to his honest and insightful analysis on RTÉ, but despite declaring an interest in the job in 2008, was overlooked for shortlisting by the FAI.
Northern Irishman Martin O’Neill (59) came close to joining West Ham in January 2011 but ultimately, is still looking for a job. Despite spending vast sums wherever he has gone, particularly at Aston Villa, O’Neill has proved himself a successful manager – as was seen in his spells in charge of Leicester and Celtic. His association with Celtic would win him much Irish support, with Celtic having such a huge Irish following, and while it seems likely that O’Neill will hold out for a top job, a la Liverpool or Manchester United, the fact he came so close to managing the chaos at West Ham proves that he is willing to listen to any offers.
Another option, possibly somewhat of a wildcard, for the FAI could be Aston Villa’s current manager, Alex McLeish (52). His close links to Rangers, whom he managed between 2001 and 2006, would deter many Irish fans but his great success with Scotland in just a ten-month spell in 2007, where Scotland won seven of their ten games, including a 1-0 over France in Paris, proved his international management credentials. Obviously, his Carling Cup success with Birmingham was greatly overshadowed by their relegation but wherever he has gone, McLeish has built a strong team mentality and from this, got the best out of his players.
As Ireland edge towards a new era, possibly without Giovanni Trapattoni, and with the golden generation of Shay Given, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane nearing the end of their international careers, the 2011-2020 decade led by the likes of Keiren Westwood, Ciaran Clark, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Shane Long will be one of the most striking transitions in Ireland’s competitive history. If it does not go smoothly, the success of the Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy eras, and the progress made under Trapattoni, will be written off as the glory days that were exceptions, in an otherwise dormant competitive history.