MANAGER Giovanni Trapattoni is the best thing to happen to our Ireland football team since the Jack Charlton era of the 1990s.
But he does not have the same range of players as Charlton had. Mick McCarthy, Roy Keane, Denis Irwin, Steve Staunton, Paul McGrath, Dave O'Leary, Packie Bonner, Ray Houghton, Niall Quinn, and Tony Cascarino played as a unit for quite some years so there was talent and consistency on display.
Since then, teams have been average, with our current captain Robbie Keane our highest ever goal scorer for Ireland, but unfortunately not playing regularly for Spurs.
The excellent Shay Given was No 1 goalkeeper for Newcastle for 10 years, but on moving to Manchester City has been relegated to a supporting role.
And without regular play these two cannot be expected to be as sharp as they were.
This is the team that Trapattoni has. They are professional players who have to play to the manager's game plan and need to be able to think on their feet when opportunities arise. They don't seem able to do that confidently, something one of the senior players, Richard Dunne, has honestly admitted recently.
This team came close to qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. It played out of its skin in that fateful qualifier against France in Paris in November 2009, with the added motivation of being insulted by a French player who remarked in the previous week's home game in Dublin that Ireland was not good enough. The team had pride and honour at stake and did us proud.
Overall, the team is still a work in progress. The manager has been accused by some sports journalists of not letting the players play freely, but there are reasons for his caution.
Until his appointment two and a half years ago, the team had become a laughing stock.
It had played in workmanlike fashion for Brian Kerr. He was quickly replaced by Steve Staunton, for whom the team played even worse, with little technical guidance as he was not an experienced coach.
It had deteriorated to the point where the players had become cold and standoffish to supporters and media. There was a dreadful atmosphere when they played.
Trapattoni restored order, structure and discipline to the team, and the feel-good factor, with his warm personality.
There have been two defeats so far in his reign, with admittedly plenty of draws and some good wins too. The important thing is that the team is no longer a laughing stock, but is sadly not good enough as yet to qualify for major competitions.
College Road, Cork