"We would be having tea and sandwiches just before bed" - David Connolly on tournament life

The former striker played for Ireland at the 2002 World Cup

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Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

Only 39 men had played for Ireland in a major tournament before David Connolly came off the bench in the 82nd minute of the 2002 World Cup Second Round game against Spain.

Since then a further 12, donned the Irish jersey at Euro 2012. The 39-year-old striker is in elite company, in the pantheon of Irish football.

"It's a wonderful occasion", Connolly told Newstalk Sport about his memories of 2002. "It doesn't happen very often in player's careers. When I was part of the squad, we had a great team spirit. It was the highlight of my career, playing for Ireland. Qualifying for a World Cup and playing at one, made it a really good period for Irish football."

The current Irish team are based in Versailles, and have trained in Dublin and Cork in the past few weeks. Connolly feels that cabin-fever shouldn't be an issue in the squad. Some of his best memories from 2002, came away from the field.

"In some ways, when you meet up with the rest of the team, you enjoy it. You're away from everyone it. It's just you and the lads. We enjoyed that time, we really it. We would be having tea and sandwiches just before bed. We would be playing football in the corridor or a game of cards. We loved those times. I cant remember feeling bored. You just wanted it to continue for as long as possible."

Connolly knows that the bond between the 23 players will last a lifetime, and they will want the journey to last as long as possible. Ireland will play a minimum of three games and he knows the players will be desperate to play more.

David Connolly misses from the spot in the penalty shoot-out against Spain. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tom Honan

"These players will hope it lasts as long as it can. They will be looking forward to it. No stone will be left unturned in giving the players the platform they need to perform."

14 years ago, Connolly's sole appearance came in the Second-Round against Spain. He played the final eight minutes of normal time, and ended up taking a penalty in the shoot-out after extra-time could not separate the teams. The then-Wimbledon striker missed one of Ireland's kicks.

"We had a penalty shootout the night before. I took a penalty, and went to the goalkeeper's top-right. Brilliant! Then you get to the game and you're unsure if you're going to be a penalty taker. In the end I didn't take a good penalty. It was very disappointing."

In Euro 2012, Ireland only used 12 players in their starting line-ups over the three games. Connolly feels that the players on the bench will be the key to the mood in the camp. "It's about enjoying these games that come every four or five days, and the challenges that each opponent brings. Those players who are not starting will want the starters to do well, and that's crucial to team spirit".

Despite having only ever won one of their six games in Euro 88 and Euro 2012, Connolly is hopeful they team can reach the last-16.

"I've got a sneaky feeling that they will come through the group if they dont lose the first game. It could go a multitude of ways, as long as they keep it tight and dont have to much pressure ahead of the Italy game, the could advance."

The opening game takes place on Monday evening in Paris. Connolly, like all other Irish fans will be hopeful of a positive result.