Spot the Premier difference

Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The parallels are striking. For Liechtenstein in Vaduz almost 23 years ago read Gibraltar in the Victoria Stadium on Saturday. Mick McCarthy's second spell in charge of the Republic of Ireland takes its first competitive test away to the bottom seeds of a qualifying group, just as his first did in 1996, when Andy Townsend's team romped to a 5-0 win.

Only the target tournament is different. Then, it was the 1998 World Cup finals, which Ireland failed to reach after losing a play-off tie. Now, it's Euro 2020, some of which will be played in Dublin.

There are other similiarites to note. Ireland's current FIFA World Ranking of 34 is three places higher than in August 1996. Back then, injury robbed McCarthy of Gary Kelly, Terry Phelan, Roy Keane, Mark Kennedy and David Connolly, just as this week he'll be without Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy, Alan Browne, Callum O'Dowda, Shane Long, Michael Obafemi and Ronan Curtis.

Eight of McCarthy's starting XI in 1996 were playing for clubs in the top tier of English football. His 20-man squad, from which 36-year-old Paul McGrath was omitted, contained just five players from the next level down, and none below that.

This week McCarthy's injury-adjusted squad of 23 has only eight players attached to top-tier clubs. That number includes Bournemouth's third-choice goalkeeper Mark Travers. Striker James Collins operates in the third level of English football with Luton Town. So does late midfield call-up Josh Cullen, currently on loan at Charlton Athletic from West Ham United.

August 1996 (20 Players) 

Top-Tier Members: 75% - Shay Given, Jeff Kenna (both Blackburn Rovers), Denis Irwin (Man Utd), Phil Babb, Jason McAteer (both Liverpool), Curtis Fleming, Alan Moore (both Middlesbrough), Kenny Cunningham (Wimbledon), Ian Harte (Leeds Utd), Steve Staunton, Andy Townsend, Gareth Farrelly (all Aston Villa), Niall Quinn, David Kelly (both Sunderland), Tony Cascarino (Olympique Marseille).

Second-Tier Members: 25% - Alan Kelly (Sheffield Utd), Garey Breen (Birmingham City), Ray Houghton (Crystal Palace), Alan McLoughlin (Portsmouth), Keith O'Neill (Norwich City).

Third-Tier Members: 0% 

League of Ireland Members: 0% 

March 2019 (23 Players) 

Top-Tier Members: 35% - Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Harry Arter (Cardiff City, on loan from Bouremouth), Kevin Long, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady (all Burnley).

Second-Tier Members: 52% - Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Richard Keogh (Derby County), John Egan, Enda Stevens, David McGoldrick (all Sheffield Utd), Alan Judge (Ipswich Town), Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane (both Aston Villa), James McClean (Stoke City), Sean Maguire (Preston North End), Aiden O'Brien (Millwall).

Third-Tier Members: 9% - James Collins (Luton Town), Josh Cullen (Charlton Athletic, on loan from West Ham).

League of Ireland Members: 4% - Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).

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