Jason McAteer says class of 2016 'miles behind' 2002 side
Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30
Jason McAteer believes there is no comparison between the Ireland side which will compete in France this summer and the 1994 and 2002 World Cup squads in which he featured.
And the hero of the famous 2001 win over Holland feels that result was also superior to the Shane Long-inspired victory against world champions Germany last October.
Still, the 44-year-old feels that Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane have succeeded in creating a spirit that gives Ireland a chance of progressing from a challenging group at the Euro finals.
"Miles away," was McAteer's response when asked how the class of 2016 rated compared to the groups he qualified with. "You feel that belief and team spirit is coming back.
"You look at this squad and I think there is no world-class players. I was lucky enough with Robbie Keane and Roy Keane and going back to 1994, you'd say Paul McGrath was in that bracket. But there's team spirit, that togetherness and camaraderie. And it's got us results - that's probably what got us out of the group."
With a smile, he disputed the suggestion that Long's goal could consign his Dutch strike to history.
"As good as that result was, I think collectively, as the two games go, the Dutch game was by far the better game.
"We were down to 10 men, the Dutch were a fantastic outfit - as the Germans are. They had proper world class players littered right throughout the team.
"I think the fact that they came to score as many goals as they could and they'd booked their hotel and flights (for World Cup) and the fact we put it all to bed was brilliant.
"But going back to the two squads, there's a big difference in quality. Our success spoke for itself.
"We always got to the play-offs in every competition. If not, we were qualifying. It's good that we have qualified. I just hope we give a good account of ourselves."
McAteer is unsure what to make of the decision to prepare for France by staying in Fota Island in Cork as opposed to going overseas. He's of the opinion that the results will ultimately be used to judge whether it was a good plan or not.
That said, he was reluctant to criticise the approach favoured by Giovanni Trapattoni for the unsuccessful Polish exercise.
"I can't really say that we'll be prepared better than Trapattoni did because I know he did prepare the team really really well," he said. "When you get to a major tournament, the big teams stand up.
"We've seen Germany here, it was if they took the eye off the ball here for a second and we punished them.
"They don't do that at major tournaments from the first whistle, they batter teams in tournaments. The big players arrive in tournaments. You've got to bring your A game.
"It's a tough group. The best thing that's happened us is getting Sweden in the first game. That's our realistic opportunity to get points on the board."
* Former Republic of Ireland International Jason McAteer, current Republic of Ireland women's star Aine O’Gorman and SPAR National Sales Director, Colin Donnelly, were on hand to help launch the 2016 SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme.