If Mick McCarthy wanted an easy time at the helm, this was the worst possible scenario for the 59-year-old.
You might think, as we were spared and plucked from the merciless clutches of the Germans and the Dutch on a technicality, that McCarthy had gotten a rub of the green already. But I’m not so sure that’s the case.
While the FAI’s goal of qualifying is at the forefront of their decision to bring in the former Ipswich Town boss, the p*iss-up around Europe is secondary to most of the country because of the scar tissue left from Martin O’Neill’s time in charge.
Indeed, it’s a group that Ireland could well qualify from without the need for a play-off.
They could even top it. But, those expectations are now present because of the departure of O’Neill rather than any upturn in player ability.
That’s McCarthy’s mark to live up to.
The football simply couldn’t have been worse, yet we drew with Denmark over there. Switzerland are coming off the back of a defeat to Qatar and Georgia are old foes that we have the measure of.
It’s the performances that are going to matter for the Irish public, even if it’s crystal clear that the FAI, unprompted by fans, don’t care about anything other than their bank balance.
But, the point will be made, despite any potential upswing in footballing aesthetics, that O’Neill wasn’t beaten in Denmark. And going to Switzerland would be the ‘type of result O’Neill could claw out’.
We won’t be expecting to be beaten by Switzerland over there. And we won’t be expecting to be beaten by Denmark over there, either.
If anything, O’Neill’s legacy of grinding out results through draconian footballing methods could haunt his successor.
So, despite hopes being at an all-time low, McCarthy is now going to be expected to push the top two very closely in a group that smacks of being ordinary, while doing so in better style than O’Neill could have managed.
Picture the group with Germany and the Netherlands and how that would have played out.
We would have gone to Amsterdam and been ripped apart, but we’d have expected it and we probably would have created a couple of chances more than we would have had under O’Neill.
We’d have sat in against Germany, created a couple of chances, and lost by a similar margin. We’d be speaking about the playoff and the rejuvenated attacking impetus, all in a rather demeaning, condescending tone.
We may have even passed the ball the odd time, with going direct actually being tolerated in those ties.
But now – we’ve gone from an acceptance of poor results and poor football to expecting slightly improved football to wield much better results and that’s unrealistic. What could have been a tool for McCarthy to cosy retirement has turned into a job that demands more of him than just being a torch carrier for Stephen Kenny.
While the Irish public can be hopeful after the Euro 2020 qualifying draw, their enthusiasm is drawn from the end of a dark era, not the beginning of a bright one – and that’s what McCarthy has to keep in check now.
Best of luck to him.