Richard Dunne for Ireland against Argentina (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Richard Patrick Dunne, unlike James Collins, really is Irish. He remains the only Aston Villa player on the Republic of Ireland squad, no matter how many rumors of Robbie Keane or Kevin Doyle swirl among the tabloids.
(Note: Stephen Ireland, who really is Irish, has not played for the country since September 2007 on account of some pretty foolish choices he made in regards to saying his grandma was dead when she was very much alive)
The Men in Green face Armenia on Tuesday to start off their Group B play. After the handball-of-doom that led to France moving on to the World Cup rather than Ireland, the team is anxious to qualify for Euro 2012. However, the country has only qualified for the Euros twice, with the last time in 1988, when they went out in the first round. To make it out of Group B, Ireland not only have to play better than Armenia, Andorra and Macedonia, but they have to make it past Russia and Slovakia.
Armenia and Ireland have never played a competitive fixture (or a friendly, as far as I can tell). Since 1992, with the dissolving of the Soviet Union, the Lernakanner (Highlanders) have never qualified for either the World Cup or the Euros. An uphill battle, certainly, but perhaps Armenia will surprise.
I watched bits and pieces of Ireland's friendly against Argentina in August, and although I wasn't thrilled by their performance, I wasn't upset either. What remains key to Ireland's performance is the strength of Richard Dunne. Although Dunne's back is still bothering him a bit, Giovanni Trapattoni, the coach, declared that he would be on the field for Friday. Robbie Keane, the side's captain, is also fit and ready to play. What Ireland will be missing is Stephen Hunt, who is recovering from knee surgery. His replacements on the wing put in some pretty poor deliveries during training, and fans of the Irish have every right to be a bit nervous.