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progress made We’ve taken two baby steps these last four days... now the steps get steeper for Stephen Kenny

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the fans after the final whistle during the international friendly match at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Tuesday October 12, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the fans after the final whistle during the international friendly match at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Tuesday October 12, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the fans after the final whistle during the international friendly match at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Tuesday October 12, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

It was that kind of night.

Callum Robinson and Cristiano Ronaldo were engaged in a long-range scoring contest two hours flying time apart. That it ended level, each player scoring three times, as Ireland and Portugal won easily, added to the surreal feeling of watching an Irish football team find its feet.

We’ve taken two baby steps these last four days. It almost feels unfair to throw in the caveat of having to consider the poverty of the opposition in each game, but you do.

Now the steps get steeper for Stephen Kenny and his team, with Portugal at home and Luxembourg away in November.

Losing to Luxembourg in Dublin last March was the nadir for Kenny. Besting them eight months later on their own patch would be a real statement from the Irish boss and his players – that they have made progress and can prove it.

Portugal will be a different kettle of fish. Their world-class players, and one resident genius, mean they can beat any team in the world on any given day. If Ireland were to lose another exciting match on a tight scoreline, no-one would complain.

If the Boys in Green were to get hammered, well Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Joao Felix, Joao Cancelo and, of course, ‘yer man’ are such class acts that it would not be fair to judge anyone on that match either.

No, it is the Luxembourg game that will measure where we’ve come from and where we might go.

Next year, but for the Nations League, will be a lost year for Irish international football. The main items on the agenda in 2022 are the World Cup play-offs and the tournament itself, neither of which will concern Ireland.

We have to wait all the way until March 2023 for the Euro 2024 qualifiers to begin. Time enough for this team to plant its feet even more steadily and ascend those steps, time then too for one or two more lads to break into their club teams and force their way inti Stephen Kenny’s plans. But we sure could do with squaring that Luxembourg result first.

One other point, unless they find a couple of Ronaldos of their own in the next 11 months, Qatar are going to be an embarrassment as World Cup hosts. Every team that qualifies for the 2022 World Cup will be praying to be drawn in their group.

Presuming this was something close to the Qatari first team, every World Cup team with a big, bustling centre-forward, or a fast, skilful one, and that’ll be most of them, will destroy their defence which had no physical presence at all in D4.

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