However, the Republic have already contrived to lose a crucial home game 2-3 to a Russian side largely considered to be no great shakes by their own historical standards. That they cruised into a 0-3 lead in Dublin indicates a serious problem that they cannot afford to resurface in the return in September. The might of Andorra also managed to score on Irish soil, and the victory over Macedonia is again one of those contests of interpretation. On the one hand the Irish created several other opportunities to close the show, while it can also be argued that Kieran Westwood was busier at 2-1 than he ought to have been. Whether the glass is half full or half empty will no doubt be borne out by the events of the coming months.
The Republic have had some superb teams in the modern era – most notably the sides of the early 1990s and the squad who performed heroically amid the strange backdrop of Saipan in 2002. There have also been some distinctly average incarnations of the emerald isle, such as the transitional side of the late 1990s. The current crop of players probably sit somewhere in the middle of those two benchmarks in terms of the pool of ability available to Trapattoni. There is a shortage of genuinely world-class personnel performing at its peak, but the basis of a solid international team capable of competing with all bar the absolute elite remains. Group B is not a formidable one, and the Republic are still capable of winning it outright thanks to some Armenian favours. Given their recent history in play-off matches, this is surely an outcome worth striving for.
What the previously successful Republic teams had as well as good players was strength of character and a ruthlessness that enabled them to shut the door on strong opposition in key matches. Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy were two of the best coaches in ROI’s history, but they were also blessed by the presence of a collective who had that steel ingrained into them both as component parts and in the whole. The reality may be that a mark on mortality type performance in Russia will be necessary to undo the damage done last October and ensure an automatic passport to Poland and Ukraine. If the current Irish squad wish to become part of the isle’s football folklore, then the time to step up to the plate is approaching fast.