That 1-0 win for the hosts secured a World Cup play-off against Iran, which would subsequently see Ireland qualify for the following year’s World Cup.
It all but eliminated the Netherlands from the equation and it remains one of Lansdowne Road’s most iconic memories.
“Prior to that game … I knew that the Dutch had already booked flights and hotels for the play-off and for the World Cup,” McCarthy explained in his Paddy Power blog. “That just pissed me off completely. I made sure the lads knew all that and it made the team talk a bit easier.”
McCarthy had been Ireland manager roughly five years at that point and had kept the Republic ultra-competitive while overseeing the difficult transition of a team that was losing many of the stalwarts from the Jack Charlton era and blooding a new generation.
“It was amazing. It summed up what we’ve gone through as a nation. We drew 2-2 over in their place, but still no-one gave us a chance against the team they turned up with. With the quality they had, it was hard not to be apprehensive.
“I knew if we lost, I was out of a job.
“Individually they had better players than us but, collectively, they didn’t have a better team. They didn’t have a team that was willing to fight, to scrap, to stop the opposition playing. I remember vividly telling them at half-time: ‘Passionate hearts and calm heads’ and then of course good old Kells (Gary Kelly) got himself sent off with more than half an hour to play.
“Then when the ball drops to Jason McAteer, I think we’re all telling him ‘fucking hell, take a touch’ and then he hits it first time and we’re all on our feet. What a goal!’ That was just wonderful, an unbelievable day.”
Ireland’s intent was obvious from the moment Roy Keane scythed through Marc Overmars after a matter of seconds and McCarthy’s confidence soared when Van Gaal ushered in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Pierre Van Hooijdonk and began launching long balls into the box.
Ireland finished second to Romania in the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup and second behind Yugoslavia in the Euro 2000 series but lost out on places in both major finals as a result of play-off defeats to Belgium and Turkey respectively. “The only frustration I have around those campaigns is that in the last match of Euro 2000 qualifying is we conceded a header against Macedonia in the 94th minute that cost us a win and automatic qualification,” McCarthy recalled.
“That still pisses me off to this day. It’s the only thing that still bothers me from my career with Ireland.
“I don’t have anyone to blame. I look at my substitutions that day and wonder did I do the right thing. If we keep that goal out, they’re great substitutions, if we don’t, they’re terrible. That’s one of the lowest points in my football career and it still irks me.”