Kerr looking for an early rub of the green baize

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The Independent Football

When the Republic of Ireland's campaign to qualify for Euro 2004 ended in frustrating failure last autumn, their manager Brian Kerr said that he had been stuck "behind the eight ball" when succeeding Mick McCarthy. That was true. After all, Kerr took over following two ruinous defeats. Now, with the start of the World Cup campaign today at home to Cyprus, the table is clear and it is solely up to Kerr.

When the Republic of Ireland's campaign to qualify for Euro 2004 ended in frustrating failure last autumn, their manager Brian Kerr said that he had been stuck "behind the eight ball" when succeeding Mick McCarthy. That was true. After all, Kerr took over following two ruinous defeats. Now, with the start of the World Cup campaign today at home to Cyprus, the table is clear and it is solely up to Kerr.

The Dubliner knows it. Anything less than a play-off place from a colourful Group Four - which includes France, Switzerland, Israel and the Faroe Islands - would constitute failure. And that means it would be hard for him to carry on in the job he so clearly cherishes.

"Whatever comes in the way we are determined to try and get over it and get the results that will make us happy," Kerr said yesterday. He is sensitive to criticism but knows any excuses, even without players such as Roy Keane and Matt Holland, will fall on deaf ears.

"The next stage is to see whether we have come on far enough, to achieve results, when we are missing experienced players," Kerr admitted. The Euro 2004 failure, against the Swiss who Ireland meet on Wednesday, did have one positive effect. It allowed Kerr to introduce new players.

"That's one of the good points but there aren't many about not being at a finals," he said. Indeed, this summer is the first he has experienced, since working for the Football Association of Ireland, where he has not had a team at an international tournament. "There's no great joy in that," he said.

There is, however, in the emergence of Nottingham Forest's Andy Reid, who makes his competitive debut today. At the age of 22, the left-footed midfielder has taken to international football with assurance. "It's easier playing with better players and that's what I am doing on these trips," Reid said. "And it has been, maybe, a bit easier than I thought."

Reid, having handed in a transfer request, was expected to move this summer. But Tottenham and Charlton refused to meet Forest's £5m asking price - a price Reid has criticised as ridiculous. "It's a bit disappointing," he said.

Another player who is disappointed is Richard Dunne, who yesterday criticised Kerr for his omission from the Irish squad. "Brian has his own ways and is sticking to them. I don't think I will be back quickly," the Manchester City defender said. Kerr was clearly taken aback, although he insisted there was no rift. He may also disappoint Stephen Carr who, it is expected, will give way to Steve Finnan at right-back. It would be a brave decision by Kerr. Finnan has played just 17 minutes of competitive international football in two years and Carr will not take kindly to be dropped.

Robbie Keane is just one goal away from equalling Niall Quinn's record of 21 goals for Ireland, a record Quinn set against Cyprus three years ago. Indeed, the Irish have scored 14 times without reply against the Cypriots in their past three meetings but know that their opponents, ranked 104th in the world, have improved.

In Michalis Konstantinou and Iannois Okkas, they have talented strikers, while several players have experience in the Champions' League. In the previous qualifiers they took the lead against France, before losing 2-1. However, Ireland should get a convincing win. Kerr knows he does not want to be snookered again from the start.

Republic of Ireland (Probable 4-4-2) : Given (Newcastle United); Finnan (Liverpool), O'Brien (Newcastle United), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Shea (Manchester United); Reid (Nottingham Forest), Kilbane (Everton), Kavanagh (Cardiff City), Duff (Chelsea); Morrison (Birmingham City), Keane (Tottenham Hotspur).

Cyprus (Probable 4-4-2) : Panayiotou (AEK Athens); Theodotou (Omonia), Iakovou (Apollon), Okkarides (Apoel), Charalambous (Omonia); Georgiou, Charalampidis, Satsias (all Apoel), Krassas (AEK Athens); Okkas (Olympiakos), Konstantinou (PAOK).

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