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Those who arrived late to the Republic of Ireland’s party in Dublin could be forgiven for wondering what was going on as 10 years of hurt were banished and Euro 2012 qualification was assured.
Ten years to the day after they last secured qualification for a major tournament (beating Iran in a playoff to make the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea), the Irish rounded off a resounding 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia to book their place at Euro 2012.
As with any celebration, it would have been rude to point out that the hosts had not exactly shone during qualifying as they struggled against sides from both ends of the table.
Dismantled at home by a technically superior Russia, they struggled before finally overcoming the group’s supposed weaker sides, Macedonia and Andorra.
It may prove difficult to switch a nation’s sporting focus from rugby to football, especially one that is basking in the glory of a first rugby grand slam in 61 years, but a wave of good fortune is boosting hopes of Ireland featuring at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
Guided by the mercurial talents of Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, the Irish have made a solid, undefeated start to a tricky qualifying group containing World champions Italy, Dimitar Berbatov’s Bulgaria, Cyprus – who beat them 5-2 in Euro 2008 qualifying - and a skilful Montenegro.
Last July the Spaniard apparently considered Robbie Keane to be worth 20 million pounds. Six months later the prolific Ireland striker was not deemed good enough even for the bench in Sunday’s FA Cup game against Everton – just the sort of fixture that would suit the hard-running Irishman.