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Things might have changed a little in the way international football dovetails with the domestic game, but then again some things have barely changed at all since I was playing.

A call-up for the Republic of Ireland did not involve so many days away and rarely involved back-to-back fixtures unless we were in a tournament.

None the less, there was certainly the need for a player to get his head around tactics, interpretations and tempo that were strikingly different to our ‘bread and butter’ weekends, in my case in the English Premier League.

You’d get some of our lads coming off an Old Firm game in Glasgow and they’d occasionally have to be warned: “Hey, you try tackling the same as that against Luxembourg or Norway and the referee will have you off before you can put one foot in front of the other!”

If you ask me it still takes a certain intelligence to adapt and take into account what seems to be a different rulebook, despite the fact we are told the Laws are supposedly the same the world over.

Even though, under Jack Charlton, and later Mick McCarthy, the Irish became known as a very physical side, our duty to our team-mates meant that we had to take care not to commit to a lunging tackle without being completely confident of coming away with the ball.

It also meant Jack would be very hot on us throwing yellow cards away on an offence such as dissent. If we were left with a break through the middle and our centre halves 30 yards off the pace, Jack would make quite sure we knew that was a legitimate caution to concede, at least in his book.

What he didn’t want to see was us giving the ref lip and then having to tread a fine line for the remainder of the match making sure you gave him no opportunity to give you your marching orders.

I don’t recall ever crossing that line myself in green, I might add, even though I did get sent off in a handful of domestic games… while I do remember many a bollocking dished out to players daft enough to go in the book for back-chat.


Mick took over from Jack having played for him, of course, but that did not see any great shift in emphasis. Even though his idea was to get more freedom and creativity in there, Mick did not seek to alter our profile as a physical side, even if we were perhaps less blatant and direct about it.

Needless to say, once we were out of possession the same rules applied! It was still “put ’em under pressure”. Jack, however, would go to greater lengths to research where the ref would be from and prepare us accordingly… so we would know exactly how aggressive we could get away with being.

One of the ironies there would be the warnings he would give us if an Italian ref was on duty. When you actually looked at the times we played against Italy, their players were undoubtedly among the most expert at pushing the physical part of the game as far as possible in the shape of masters such as Baresi, Maldini and so on.

If I could sum up the change in approach required from a player’s point of view it would be that to stay on your feet as long as possible while trying to win the ball was always a good rule of thumb.

It was possible then as it is now to concede free kicks even when you do make contact with the ball and, going away from home, you often felt that a challenge that might be otherwise deemed perfectly acceptable could lead to a dismissal.

I find it interesting that if anything the gap between the football played internationally and domestically has narrowed due to the multicultural influx into the top teams in the top leagues. It is certainly less of a stretch for players to adjust between international qualifiers now and the Champions League.

Football Soccer - Manchester United v Liverpool - UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Second Leg - Old Trafford, Manchester, England - 17/3/16 Referee Milorad Mazic awards a penalty to Manchester United Reuters / Andrew Yates Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

I also fear the day that the same refereeing fussiness will be applied to a Liverpool versus Manchester United encounter, for argument’s sake, given how high the stakes are for players, fans and managers alike.

The penalties you see given in European ties for raising so much as a foot or risking the slightest nudge would ruin the spectacle of our fiercest derby matches and I feel that those players taking part in these games need to continue being cut more slack than usual.