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Rise of the new Celtic Tigers

RAISE a glass then to the virtue of fortitude and persistence, the two overwhelming characteristics of the players who are about to do something no Ireland team has ever done before.

Perhaps it hasn't quite yet sunk in but when the final whistle sounds tomorrow night at Lansdowne Road, this team will deliver the golden ticket in front of their own fans.

Not even Jack Charlton's team could do that.

Placed man for man alongside Charlton's squad, weighed down as they were by silverware and medals, these players carry a very small sack indeed and nobody would ever make the claim that Giovanni Trapattoni's men can rival the quality available back in '88.

Just about every one of the current crop has doffed a hat to the great names from the past at one stage or other during the build-up to the first-leg in Tallinn but now they can step out from behind those memories and create a few new ones.

This squad carries many subplots and stories which make qualification for Euro 2012 a rich tapestry reflective of many pathways to professional football.

Not the big names.

Not Richard Dunne or Robbie Keane or Shay Given or the Duffer but Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle who have all walked a hard road to earn their position in Irish football folklore.


Dunne's brilliance, Given's extraordinary quality and Keane's goals will feature in bullet-point histories of this qualifying campaign but due credit must be given to those who had to fight for a career in the game before the notion of an appearance in the second biggest tournament in world football could even be entertained.

Glenn Whelan has been at the sticky end of much crit

icism throughout the last three years despite his own admission that he was following instructions at all times and doing the job he was given by Trapattoni.

What was once a stick to beat Whelan is, in reality, the core strength of this squad and Trapattoni's management. It took Friday night to show us that.

Stella Maris man Keith Andrews took perhaps the longest route of all and his attitude to his work was summed up in a fantastic quote he gave after Friday night's fireworks.

“I don't give two shites about the critics, we've been doing our job,” and that could easily be a motto for the way many of the men who will deliver qualification have lived their lives.

Hard graft comes as second nature to men who dropped down the divisions in England and clawed their way back to the top.

Trapattoni has never operated in a lower division of the game, yet the same principles which allowed Whelan, Andrews, Hunt and many more to believe that they would eventually make it to the top, govern his life.


Discipline and an organised approach come first. He doesn't want to leave anything to chance but embraces fortune with gusto when it arrives as if it is was simply his due.

Over the next week or so, while speculation about a new contract spins into overdrive, he will follow his tried and trusted formula. Never look back, always face forward and try, if possible, to leave everyone smiling when you walk away. You never know when you might be back.

That's why the very one-sided game he played with the FAI over the last few weeks never quite peaked at the volume his megaphone approach to man management sometimes reached over the last three years.

The FAI had no option but to hedge their bets and await events. It would have been foolish to sign up for two more years of a formula that didn't work.

Even if he might have felt affronted by this view, he didn't show it and simply repeated more than a few times that he felt he deserved a new deal.

But he knew that he had to deliver qualification and that once he did, it would not be good for anyone if he had driven a wedge between himself and the FAI with intemperate words.

It's just football to Trapattoni and that's all it will ever be. Winners are rewarded and losers take the consequences. With this result in Tallinn, Trapattoni has secured his reputation and enhanced it.

He could, if he wanted to, walk away now and expect a huge salary in another gig.

But he does seem to have a genuine wish to continue, even if his pre-match charm offensive on the media and post-match teary moment seemed like part of a vaudeville routine.

In the Italian press over the weekend, he told his people that this campaign reminds him of Juventus where he inherited a poor team and hunkered down in his first season, building morale, discipline and unity.

He added five or six new faces, kept hammering home his message and won Serie A a season later.

He did it with a completely different, and more attacking approach than he used to consolidate in his first 12 months.

Trapattoni will need two more years to follow that particular parable through to a conclusion with Ireland and even if he now thinks that something special is possible, he will ask for what he believes he is now worth and that might water a few eyes out in Abbotstown.


The big question now is whether Dennis O'Brien is prepared to dig deep again and make it worth Trap's while to hang around.

But that is for later and at the moment we should all just bask in the most peculiar feeling of complete comfort which comes attached to the second-leg.

We should also find time to afford Estonia some sympathy and respect as Trapattoni would wish for given our own circumstances not so very long ago.

They were fantastic hosts for the three days Ireland's fans cavorted around Tallinn and such a humiliation is never easy to stomach.

But they smiled and sent us home happy.