THE REPUBLIC of Ireland, rarely inclined to do things the easy way, must rewrite history if they are to claim the place at the Euro 2000 finals that would have been theirs but for late lapses in group matches away to Croatia and Macedonia. Two years ago they drew the first leg of a World Cup play-off 1-1 at home to Belgium, then succumbed 2-1 in Brussels after having David Connolly sent off.
At Lansdowne Road on Saturday night, Connolly played a more productive role, coming on as a substitute and setting up Robbie Keane to score in the 79th minute, but once again concentration was not maintained. Allowing Turkey to equalise from a penalty only four minutes later, then losing Keane for the return leg with an avoidable yellow card, means they are continuing to take the longest, most convoluted route to next year's finals.
That was certainly how it felt on a tortuous journey yesterday via plane, coach and ferry to Bursa, 150 miles south of Istanbul, where the return game will be staged despite the seriousness of the earthquake in Turkey on Friday. That genuine tragedy put mere footballing frustrations into context.
The Irish suffered disappointments in Zagreb and Skopje and another one on Saturday, but they are used to that and soon after the final whistle their captain, Roy Keane, back after missing four of the last five competitive games, was going round the dressing room lifting spirits.
There are, however, problems to overcome, especially in terms of personnel. Although Mark Kinsella will be available again to partner Keane in the centre of midfield following a one-match suspension, Niall Quinn could again be missing after dropping out of Saturday's match shortly before kickoff and goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, who had to be substituted in the second half, has returned home. His uncapped brother, Gary of Oldham, was called up yesterday as a replacement.
After disappointing contributions from the 37-year-old Tony Cascarino, deputising for Quinn in his 87th international, and Rory Delap, the former javelin champion who did not go the distance, Mick McCarthy will need to assess his options carefully, especially as he will be without Robbie Keane, who tried the referee's patience with one outburst too many.
"I can't accept people getting booked for things like that," the Irish coach said. "Perhaps he's got to learn to control his emotions, especially with referees. But we're leaning heavily on a very bright young kid, probably unfairly so at times. We've got to score now and we've got a prolific, young goalscorer who can't play but that doesn't mean to say we can't score."
Turkey's demeanour suggested McCarthy might be right in thinking they believe that the tie is effectively won. In maintaining their unbeaten away record in the competition, they had survived a fierce, early burst in which the goalkeeper, Rustu Regber, made good stops from Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Keane, then later, Cascarino. An attacking substitution at half-time helped them seize the initiative for a while and Ireland had not created much more before Keane's well-taken goal.
Lee Carsley's undeniable hand ball then allowed Tayfur Havutcu to succeed with a penalty against Dean Kiely who had replaced Kelly for his international debut.
It was a shame that the Turkish coach, Mustaf Denizli, felt obliged to make some unlikely sounding allegations about Irish fans having kept his players awake at the squad's hotel the night before the game. "We do not treat people that way," the Football Association of Ireland's chief executive, Bernard O'Byrne, said. "But if you book your accommodation in a hotel that has a disco, what do you expect?"
Denizli would have received more sympathy for stressing the players' anxiety back in the earthquake zone, but his complaints will doubtless have the desired effect of stirring up Turkish fans on Wednesday.
Anyone on either side tempted to take the result too seriously should remember the flags at half-mast and the minute's silence in remembrance of the real victims and of Andrea Curry, the Irish aid worker killed in Friday's Kosovo air crash.
Goals: Robbie Keane (79) 1-0; Tayfur (83, pen) 1-1.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Kelly (Blackburn); Carr (Tottenham), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Breen (Coventry), Irwin (Man Utd); Delap (Derby), Roy Keane (Man Utd), Carsley (Blackburn), Kilbane (WBA); Cascarino (Nancy), Robbie Keane (Coventry). Substitutes used: Duff (Blackburn) for Delap, 52; Kiely (Charlton) for Kelly, 61; Connolly (Feyenoord) for Cascarino, 76.
TURKEY (4-5-1): Rustu; Ogun, Alpay (all Fenerbahce), Ali Eren (Besiktas), Hakan Unsal; Umit (both Galatasaray), Tayfun, Sergen, Abdullah (all Fenerbahce), Tayfur (Besiktas); Hakan Sukur (Galatasaray). Substitutes used: Arif Erdem (Galatasaray) for Umit, h-t; Tugay (Galatasaray) for Hakan Unsal, 66; Mert (Gaziantepspor) for Sergen, 86.
Referee: M Fisk (Sweden).
Booked: Republic of Ireland: Robbie Keane.
Man of the match: Rustu.