Playing England at any sport is always a bit special, and where the round ball is concerned, even more so.

This week the Republic of Ireland faced up to ‘Perfidious Albion’ no less than three times, with the Under-17 girls leading the way with a 4-0 win in England.

The Under-19s, ravaged by injury, lost 1-0 in the UEFA Elite Qualifying Phase in the Ukraine and so the Under-23 game, part of the International Challenge Trophy tournament would effectively be the week’s decider.

At the Waterford RSC the sun shone as it tends to do down here. That’s why they call it the Sunny South East, I guess. A large crowd with mayors and ambassadors and flags and anthems, a proper international occasion indeed, as the best of the young domestic crop got to pit their skills against their English counterparts. This would be an interesting comparison between the Airtricity League of Ireland and the Blue Square Conference.

Paul Doolin chose an adventurous line-up, a genuine 4-3-3 formation with exciting players Ross Gaynor and Billy Dennehy supporting St Pat’s Paul Byrne up front.

Stephen O’Donnell anchored the Irish midfield as point man for James Chambers and Ronan Finn, and a talented back four included local boy Kenny Browne, alongside Gary Breen at centre half, with Stephen Mulcahy and Conor Powell in the full-back berths.

The England team included players from once-famous clubs like Luton, Oxford, Wrexham and Wimbledon, but apart from this international outing, their season had ended a couple or more weeks ago.

Ireland had started brightly in the early evening sunshine and Shamrock Rovers’ James Chambers was at the centre of early Irish chances, linking with Conor Powell to set up an opportunity for Ronan Finn and then linking with Billy Dennehy whose low, hard cross just needed a touch.

Chambers then changed the direction of the attack and brought Ross Gaynor into the play on the Irish right, his tempting centre touched on by centre forward Paul Byrne, but the Pat’s man was at full stretch and the chance went abegging.

But as the game developed into a discernible pattern it became clear that England were fit and strong and ready for the fray.

England’s opening goal came courtesy of the impressive Andrew Fleming. The Wrexham midfielder picking up possession from a slip by Stephen O Donnell and firing a low shot from distance which Darren Quigley in the Irish goal got a hand to but couldn’t stop as the ball ended up nestling in the bottom corner. You couldn’t say it wasn’t deserved.

Moments earlier Fleming had been at the centre of the action again as Ireland had a lucky escape, a cross from Sean Newton met by the head of Fleming and with the Irish defence floundering the crossbar saved their blushes.

England added to their tally on 63 minutes when Ireland failed to deal with a corner. Tom Cadmore won a header unchallenged in the box and Max Porter had far too much time at the back post to rifle past Quigley.

Ireland’s defence was forced into an early reshuffle. Waterford-born Kenny Browne, now with Sporting Fingal and one of the most impressive players on display as the U-23s took on the Republic of Ireland last week, was clearly still suffering from a bout of ‘flu and only played the first 35 minutes. Shaun Kelly came in at right full-back and Stephen Mulcahy was moved alongside Gary Breen at centre-back.

In general though the Irish defence had a deeply troubling evening. Paul Doolin was forced into a number of other substitutions and two of those combined to grab a goal back for the Boys in Green. Gary McCabe found Paddy Madden and the Bohemians striker found the net to set up a tense finish.

However, as caution was thrown to the wind and the shape of the two sides thrown out the window, England should have had at least a couple more. The brilliantly monikered Matthew Barnes Homer - with about half an hour to pick his spot - waited until Mulcahy got back to block (doh!), and at the other end as Ireland broke Padraig Amond burst into the box and dithered as the unmarked Paddy Madden screamed for the ball.

In the last frantic minutes Ireland forced a few corners and produced another couple of efforts, none of which found the target. In truth though, an equaliser would hardly have been fair. Paul Doolin might not agree, of course, and philosophically speaking when has football ever been fair?

The result though was a blow to those who measure the progress of the domestic game by the amount of League of Ireland players who have prospered in professional football in England.

This particular England side - drawn from the Blue Square Premier or the Conference - or what used to be known as ‘non-league football’ fully deserved their win over their Airtricity League counterparts.

Paul Doolin admitted as much afterwards and said he told his squad that they had to have that full-time mentality to match the English and perhaps needed to work even harder in the gym as well as on the field.

Another thought occurred, a thought that added a chill to the late evening breeze.

Maybe all our international teams, at every level, should play the Trapattoni way.

Much was made by the senior players after the win over Paraguay about their complete belief in ‘the system’.

Two banks of four, with a rigid midfield structure and an emphasis on shape, can it seems eke out results against teams who are ranked higher than Ireland and who are on their way to the World Cup finals.

Much of modern football seems to be about what you do when you don’t have the ball. The possession stats from the Champions League final proved that having the ball for long periods doesn’t mean anything unless you have patience and trust in your own ability to strike.

Of course you have to have the players to work a system and Trap has Doyle and Keane, Duff and Whelan, and on the good nights O’Shea and Dunne.

At League of Ireland level is what we saw in Waterford the very best we have?

Tony O'Donoghue is RTÉ's Soccer Correspondent.