Two months ago, in advance of the Republic of Ireland's opening Nations League clash against Wales in Cardiff, we said that morale was on the basement floor and that apathy was reaching late Eoin Hand era levels.

Turns out we were only in the ha'penny place in the apathy stakes. This week, Ireland play an old-style meaningless friendly in preparation for a fixture almost as meaningless. 

The inaugural Nations League has lived down to our lowest expectations and morale is now hovering somewhere near the earth's core. 

Technically, Ireland could avoid relegation to League C and, in doing so, retain their second seed status for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers. But this would entail beating a fully locked and loaded Denmark (aka, one that contains Christian Eriksen) in their own stadium. Most Irish supporters, wallowing in pessimism, are not content to let this suggestion pass without a snort.

Such is the level of apathy around the national team that - and whisper it very quietly - the League of Ireland seems to be enjoying a bounce in popularity as a result. There was arguably more excitement generated by the FAI Cup final than any of Ireland's recent matches. 

League of Ireland stalwarts have even privately expressed fears to me about their pastime going mainstream, not something that have had much cause to worry about for the past five decades. One evoked the dark spectre of hordes of 'barstoolers' descending on provincial LOI grounds next February, polluting the atmosphere with their naff English accented chanting. The official PR gatekeepers of the league would of course reject this economically incoherent snobbery.

In the meantime, the Republic of Ireland have a couple more fixtures to fulfil. And without wishing to attract dirty looks from the disaffected by puncturing the air of gloom, it can't be denied that tomorrow's meaningless friendly is rendered somewhat less meaningless by the identity of the opposition.

Games with Northern Ireland typically have an added spice to them. The famous Windsor Park game of 25 years ago this month was spicier than a vindaloo and the match itself, as well as the atmosphere and issues surrounding it, were explored in an excellent article by RTÉ's Anthony Pyne this week (read here).  

The Republic of Ireland have played a number of competitive games in Belfast down the years but whenever anyone references 'The Windsor Park Game' everyone knows which game they're talking about. The anniversary of that game falls on Saturday and Thursday's match provides a convenient excuse to remember.  

B"UP YOURS!" - Billy Bingham and Jack Charlton exchange words after Windsor Park clash

Of the encounters between the sides in Dublin, the most famous is probably the match from the same campaign played eight months earlier, the game which apparently riled Billy Bingham so much he resolved to stoke the fires for the return clash.

The Republic were 3-0 up after half an hour, Steve Staunton scoring the third direct from a corner. 

"ONE TEAM IN IRELAND, THERE'S ONLY ONE TEAM IN IRELAND!!" rang around Lansdowne Road as Bingham, who'd taken the North to World Cups in Spain and Mexico, sat seething in the dugout.

With Charlton's team riding high on top of the group, the game probably represented the high-water mark of Irish footballing triumphalism. That summer, the Republic of Ireland were placed 6th in those world rankings. 

Amidst the fraught political circumstances in late 1993, the desire for footballing revenge that night in Windsor Park has sometimes been underplayed. 

Subsequent meetings have lacked the same tension. Jackie's army travelled to Windsor Park in late '94 to take on Northern Ireland now under the new management of Brian Hamilton - Windsor Park '93 was Bingham's last game in charge after 13 mostly successful years - and strolled to a routine 4-0 victory. 

Kevin Moran and Iain Dowie during the March 1993 meeting in Lansdowne Road

Thanks to the Republic's implosion down the back end of Euro 96 qualifying, the North very nearly pipped us to second place in the group, only falling short on goal difference. 

But their competitiveness with their southern rivals wasn't to last. Beginning in the late 90s, Northern Ireland entered a decline so steep, it appeared a long shot that they would ever climb out of it. During Sammy McIlroy's disastrous time in charge, they descended to the level of the minnows, setting an embarrassing record by going 10 games and over 1,000 minutes without scoring a goal. 

Whenever a united Ireland team was mooted, which was often, people wondered aloud how many of the Northern Ireland players would get a spot on the Republic's bench. Those of a mischievous mindset were inclined to paraphrase Gerry Adams - Northern Ireland was a "failed footballing entity."

Things have taken an abrupt turn in the other direction in recent years. More or less out of the blue, Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 and the competition in France would, as a result, give us the Will Grigg song and those videos of yer man from Coronation Street going nuts. 

Perhaps the central question tomorrow is, where does the balance of power lie on the island? The world rankings may not be regarded as holy writ these days - having seemed a tad harsh four years ago, they now seem excessively kind to Martin O'Neill's team - but they are a godsend for those busting a gut to hype up tomorrow's fixture.

The Republic of Ireland are officially Team 33 in the world at present with Northern Ireland just one spot behind. Not only that but the Republic sit one ranking point ahead of the North. While the rankings won't be updated until after the international window ends, you'd imagine there is a fair chance that victory for Northern Ireland would lift them above their rivals. 

More than that, it would become harder to refute the idea that Northern Ireland are the leading team on the island, possibly for the first time since the mid-80s (they did hover above the Republic in the world rankings a couple of years back but we can't trust that on its own).

The identity of the man behind this rise is of particular interest to observers south of the border. A portion of the Irish fanbase, including Liam Brady, are still dubious that an LOI manager can walk straight into the international job.

And yet Michael O'Neill was appointed Northern Ireland manager having just led Shamrock Rovers to back-to-back league titles and into the group stages of the Europa League. 

The two O'Neill's shared the Philips Manager of the Year award in 2015

He has since revitalised a previously moribund Northern Ireland setup to an astonishing degree. And he's done so with a team with possibly even less star quality in its ranks than Martin O'Neill has to call upon. 

Watford's Craig Cathcart is the only ever-present in the English Premier League named in this week's squad with Johnny Evans a semi-regular presence in the Leicester City defence. 

Like their neighbours, the Nations League has gone poorly for Northern Ireland, albeit their struggles have been accompanied by less wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

Michael O'Neill, operating in a less demanding environment, can still count on the gratitude and support of Northern Ireland fans.

Should he lead the North to only their third victory over the Republic tomorrow evening, then he could - though this is a big 'if' - potentially trigger a managerial crisis down here.

Who knows? If such a crisis was sparked, he may even pave the way for the Republic to seek their own League of Ireland manager.  

Follow Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland with our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News Now App and listen to live commentary on 2fm's Game On from 7pm