We’d narrowly missed out on France ’98 and Euro 2000 when we were drawn in the same qualifying group as Portugal and Holland for the 2002 World Cup.
I don’t think anybody gave us a chance and, because of those two previous campaigns, I was also under some pressure. People thought we’d get beat away to both, and that that would be the end of me.
But we’d been playing well, and improving. After going out to Turkey before Euro 2000, a few of the lads retired – but with the new ones who came in we had a really bright, young squad, and you could see that they were gelling and progressing. In training, Shay Given would make outrageous saves that would make you stop; Robbie Keane would do things that would have the lads applauding.
It was a really tough draw, but you’ve just got to get on with it. My view’s always been that, if somebody poses you a challenge, you’ve got to go and confront it.
Before that qualification campaign started we went to America – to Chicago, Boston and New York – and that was the catalyst for what was to follow. We drew with Mexico and America, and beat South Africa. And we had a great time.