This time ten years ago was the last time that Ireland were preparing for a major tournament. Back then, the only story worth talking about in relation to the Irish team was Roy Keane and his acrimonious departure from the squad (referred to, rather dramatically, as the “Roy Keane incident” on Wikipedia). Things are rather smoother in that respect in the lead up to Euro 2012, notwithstanding the late and cruel exclusion of Kevin Foley for reasons of squad depth reorganisation. The Roy Keane saga was Ireland’s second civil war, dividing opinion in this country in a huge way. The arguments were plentiful, I remember. My mother still hasn’t forgiven McCarthy. I may never forgive Keane.
But there are plenty of other differences. The squad of 2002 contained young Ireland stars like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, today the old guard of the team. In 2002 Ireland were known for a more aggressive mindset, that had seen them beat Holland with just 10 men in the qualifiers in an utterly enthralling game of football, while today Ireland are the epitome of the defensive shell team. Ireland went into World Cup 2002 with a not unreasonable confidence, even without Roy Keane, of making it out a group containing Germany, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia – today, they face Spain, Italy and Croatia, with the smart money describing them as wooden spoon candidates.
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