It has been almost 17 years since Mick McCarthy last took charge of an Irish team in a competitive international fixture.
On Saturday, against Gibraltar he will make his return to the dugout for the first team since October 2002 when he stepped down from his post following a defeat to Switzerland in Euro 2004 qualifying.
This time around things for Ireland are very different, with expectations somewhat lower and the squad completely different to the one which excelled in the 2002 World Cup.
With McCarthy’s return just a couple of days away, we take a look at his last 18-man squad for the loss to Switzerland with his current 23-man squad for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar.
Ireland vs Switzerland 16th October 2002
Goalkeepers: Shay Given, Dean Kiely
Defenders: Garry Kelly, Kenny Cunningham, Gary Breen, John O’Shea, Ian Harte
Midfielders: Matt Holland, Colin Healy, Mark Kinsella, Kevin Kilbane, Stephen McPhail, Lee Carsley, Thomas Butler
Forwards: Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Gary Doherty, Clinton Morrison
Gibraltar vs Ireland 23rd March 2019
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph, Kieren Westwood, Mark Travers
Defenders: Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty, Enda Stevens, Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh, Kevin Long, John Egan
Midfielders: Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter, Jack Byrne, Robbie Brady, Josh Cullen, James McClean, Conor Hourihane, Glenn Whelan, Alan Judge.
Forwards: Sean Maguire, David McGoldrick, Aiden O’Brien, James Collins
Starting with the goalkeepers, in between the sticks is still a position that McCarthy currently finds his side quite strong in.
In 2002 though he had Newcastle’s Shay Given, one of the finest keepers in the Premier League at the time, as well as Charlton Atheltic’s Dean Kiely who was also a starter in the top flight.
Both Darren Randolph and Kieren Westwood are impressing for Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday but at Championship level, while Mark Travers has yet to see game time in the Premier League for Bournemouth.
In each instance McCarthy was strong in the goalkeeping department.
All five defenders the Irish boss was blessed with in 2002 were Premier League players, with Gary Breen the only one who wasn’t a top flight regular at the time with his club West Ham.
Currently however, McCarthy still boasts a plethora of talent in his defence.
Starting with centre-backs, Shane Duffy is unquestionably the stand-out of the current options, with he and Kenny Cunningham who was starring for newly promoted Birmingham at the time, the closest comparisons from 2002.
John Egan has been a rock at the heart of the Sheffield United defence this season albeit in the Championship, while Gary Breen was failing to nail down a regular spot at Premier League strugglers West Ham during the visit of Switzerland.
John O’Shea didn’t start the game but he had been having a strong season in a number of positions for Manchester United with neither Kevin Long nor Richard Keogh reaching those heights at club level.
Leeds United’s full-back pairing of Ian Harte and Garry Kelly were both in excellent form in their career in 2002, but one could argue that Matt Doherty‘s performances for Wolves in 2018/2019 are at a slightly higher level.
Seamus Coleman has been in and out of Everton’s starting XI, while Enda Stevens is in fantastic form plying his trade with high-flying Sheffield United.
Again not too much separating the sides.
With Callum O’Dowda and Alan Browne out injured Ireland’s creativity has taken a hit in midfield.
Starting with the younger players, McCarthy opted to start Coventry’s Celtic loanee Colin Healy, who was only 22 at the time while Sunderland’s Thomas Butler who was on the bench was younger again at 21.
In his current squad McCarthy might compare the pair to Charlton’s Josh Cullen and Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne, both of whom are promising young midfielders at 22.
Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Brady, have a similar style in that they are left-footed players in the Premier League, while Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter could be looked at as 2019’s version of Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland.
At 28, Lee Carsley was one of the more senior players in the squad, and his holding role was similar although a bit more creative to that of Glenn Whelan’s and like the Everton man, it’s unlikely that Whelan makes the starting XI for McCarthy.
Both Stephen McPhail and Alan Judge are creatively strong however both suffered with injury issues.
James McClean could be put in the Brady/Kilbane comparison but the Stoke City man’s tenacity and workrate brings something completely different to what McCarthy had in his midfield in 2002.
McCarthy’s strongest position in 2002, is unquestionably his weakest in 2019.
In Robbie Keane, Ireland had one of the Premier League’s best strikers who at the time was fitting into life at Spurs where he would go on to score 13 goals in his first season.
Sean Maguire is probably the closest thing to Keane in McCarthy’s current side, but comparing any Irish striker past or present to him would arguably be doing the record goalscorer a disservice.
In Damien Duff, McCarthy has had an incredibly exciting young winger/forward, something that he does not have in his current squad, although David McGoldrick does offer something different up top, in the same way the then Blackburn man did.
Clinton Morrison, who only made the bench against Switzerland, was a Premier League regular with Birmingham at the time, which is more than can be said for Aiden O’Brien who is struggling to nail down a starting berth for Millwall in the Championship.
Luton Town’s James Collins is a wild card option for McCarthy in a similar way to Gary Doherty who seamlessly transitioned between playing as a centre-forward and a centre-half, something Collins’ game is yet to adopt.