While it was the craic-having, horse mask-wearing Irish fans that hogged the headlines, performances on the pitch at Euro 2016 have given the country hope that they may be packing their tri-colours for Moscow in the summer of 2018.
The Road to Russia starts now.
The Boys in Green could be accused of scouting for bad stag party locations given the amount of times they have visited Eastern Europe to start qualification campaigns in recent years.
Amazingly Ireland have been to Georgia twice (2016, 2010), Kazakhstan (2014) and Armenia (2012) to start their last four qualifying adventures, so a trip to Belgrade to meet Serbia shouldn’t phase Martin O’Neill’s experienced squad.
All the odds on Serbia v Ireland on PP.com
The nation’s hero Robbie Keane is a notable absentee now he’s hung up his jersey, but whisper it quietly – the stats suggest his influence on the international set up was on the wane anyway.
And before you shout blasphemy, a look back on Ireland’s road to Euro 2016 shows Keane’s only goals came in the home and away trouncings of lowly Gibraltar.
In fact the last time the former captain managed to complete the full 90 minutes for his country was against Poland in March 2015.
Since then it has been up to the likes of Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Robbie Brady in particular to drag Ireland forward.
Brady has scored in his last two competitive internationals – and those strikes against France and Italy had him nearing Conor McGregor status in the summer.
He has a tighter strangle hold on Ireland’s set-pieces than Tony Pulis’s grip on Saido Berahino, so you wouldn’t back against the Dubliner going four from four at in Belgrade after limbering up with Ireland’s opener against Oman mid-week.
Ireland fans will also look to Wednesday’s two-goal getter ‘Super’ Jonny Walters to add to his five goals in his last 10 competitive games.
He might be in-and-out of the side at club level, but it’s clear to see that Martin O’Neill wants him on the field as much as possible for his country.
The Stoke City man seems to have the knack of picking up important goals for his country and you wouldn’t back against him finding the onion bag against Serbia. He’s at to hit the back of the net at anytime.
No Need to Serb Your Enthusiasm
Although they’re going into the game as odds-on favourites at , Serbia had a horrific Euro 2016 qualifying campaign – only managing to pick up a lowly four points in the process.
They do boast a whole-host of recognisable Premier League stars past and present in their ranks though and will no doubt put it up to O’Neill’s side.
Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and Matija Nastasic – formerly of Man City – will seek to lock out Walters and Co, while Southampton’s Dusan Tadic should figure in midfield and Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic will be in the hunt for goals (and probably cards) up top.
Football Manager geeks will be hoping to see Benfica wonderkid Andrija Zikovic get a run out as well – if only so that they can tell the story of how they discovered the youngster while taking Tranmere to successive league titles and Champions League glory.
The Irish defence has us waking up in a cold sweat some nights, after keeping just one clean sheet in their last four competitive fixtures.
Throw into the mix that Shane Duffy is suspended, and O’Neill will have to work some heroics to keep Ireland tight at the back.
But it wouldn’t be right backing against our own boys, and Ireland are a tempting price at for an away win.
The patriotic pennies will be going on a 2-1 win for Ireland at a lovely given that was the score they have won by in three of their four last qualifying openers.
Let’s just hope at the end of the game Martin O’Neill is as happy as a bare-chested Vladimir Putin on horseback as Ireland start their road to Russia.