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Irish World Cup hopes grow

The exploits of Northern Ireland and the Republic in qualifying for the World Cup play-offs, coming just over a year after both sides made it to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 in France, deserve the highest praise.

Northern Ireland showed admirable consistency by effectively clinching second place in their group with two games to spare, while the Republic had to survive a nail-biting finish in their last match in Wales on Monday night before also going through to next week's draw.

The home and away legs scheduled for November are daunting prospects and will decide if either or both of the teams can ultimately progress to Russia 2018.

However, their respective managers, Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill, have each demonstrated a repeated ability to achieve entirely unexpected results and there will be genuine hopes of Irish representation in next summer's tournament.

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