THE current Republic of Ireland team are much more like the Northern Ireland teams that qualified for the 1982 and ‘86 World Cup Finals than their own predecessors who contested the finals of 1990 and ‘94.
The successful Republic team of the 1990s will always be remembered for that iconic victory over Italy in 1994 when Jack Charlton’s mixed bag of honest journeymen and England rejects triumphed 1-0 in Giants Stadium, New York.
The Republic went on to qualify from the group before going out to Holland in the last 16, losing 2-0.
That 1994 campaign followed on from the Republic’s high impact entry onto the World Cup stage in Italy four years earlier when Big Jack’s side had gone a step further, losing 1-0 to the hosts in the quarter-finals in the wake of 1-1 draws with England and Holland plus a penalty shoot-out last 16 victory over Romania.
But was that Republic side that enjoyed so much success just a happy-go-lucky don’t-give-a-damn outfit that got lucky?
Or should that lucky tag be applied to the current crop of players who face France at Croke Park tomorrow night in the first leg of a crucial World Cup play-off?
The squads that reached the 1990 and 1994 finals were backboned by the likes of Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Steve Staunton, Kevin Moran, Ray Houghton, Mark Lawrenson, John Aldridge, Frank Stapleton, Denis Irwin and Roy Keane.
And that’s only the Manchester United and Liverpool contingents.
Throw in other top players like Pat Bonner, Kevin Sheedy, Andy Townsend, David O’Leary and Niall Quinn and it’s obvious that the Republic could boast a formidable line-up.
The Republic had good players pre-1990 too, though. But until Jack Charlton took the team by the scruff of the neck in 1986, the Irish were serial under achievers.
Nice players, nice football, little end product. All mouth and no trousers, if you like.
Big Jack changed all that. He made the Republic a unit that harassed the life out of the opposition and were a nightmare to play against.
There’s an argument that the Republic could have been an even better side had the quality players in the ranks been allowed to express themselves. But this was something that hadn’t produced in the past and Big Jack was nothing if not a pragmatist.
Fast forward to November 14, 2009 and the Republic of Ireland line-up that will take to the Croke Park pitch to face the French.
Top notch players? Shay Given, maybe Robbie Keane. Keane failed at Liverpool but many would put that down to the strange world of Rafa Benitez.
Okay, that’s two.
At a rather large push, Richard Dunne? Obviously Manchester City didn’t think so but Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill is renowned as a shrewd judge.
Damien Duff? Good pedigree having been at Chelsea but has seen better days. The time when Duffer was on Sir Alex Ferguson’s wanted list has long since passed.
Aiden McGeady still has potential but isn’t going to develop into a force on the world stage while he’s plying his trade with Celtic in the backwater that is the Scottish Premier League.
The once vibrant Manchester United and Liverpool links have now been virtually erased. John O’Shea is a key player for the Republic but a squad player at United, while Londonderry-born Darron Gibson is just about hanging on to his Old Trafford future.
So is the current Republic side simply lucky to be within touching distance of the 2010 Finals?
Ironically this group of players are much more like the Northern Ireland teams of 1982 and ‘86 than their own predecessors in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Can the Republic get past France? Hard work, more than luck, has brought them this far.
But a little bit of luck at this stage could make all the difference.