And so it all comes down to this. Ninety minutes that will decide qualification for the Euro 2020 finals. One shot at redemption against all too familiar and, let’s not mince our words here, superior foes. A game Mick McCarthy has repeatedly referred to in the build-up as a ‘cup final’.
The real death or glory deal, then. Except it’s not. Confirmation that Ireland already have the admittedly dubious fall-back of a place in the play-offs next spring means death, at least of the sudden variety, is actually off the table tonight. But the potential for glory definitely remains.
And, rightly, that’s the only possibility Mick McCarthy wants to address and accentuate as he prepares his troops for the biggest game at the Aviva Stadium since, well, the last time the Danes came to town. That harrowing experience left Irish football with wounds that really only victory tonight would help to heal.
But McCarthy wasn’t in charge on that painful occasion and only four of the starting XI from two years ago might be expected to take the field this evening. So this one is all about a bid to create new, special and, of course, much, much happier memories.
“Yeah, it is,” says the manager. “And we’ll be trying to do that, of course we will. There’s nothing that you can suddenly just (clicks fingers) pluck out of thin air that we’re going to do because it’s an extra-special game. So we’ll just have to continue doing what we’re doing and see if we can score more goals than we have.
Needing no telling that the Danes, with good reason, believe they are better than his team (“Absolutely they do, yeah, and I kind of like upsetting the odds,” he smiles), McCarthy doesn’t expect Age Hareide’s side will confine themselves to trying to secure the single point they need.
”No. I don’t think they’ll come here and sit back, thinking a draw will do,” he says. “That would be a recipe for disaster for them, I think. And I don’t think they believe they have to do that.”
Does he take encouragement from the fact that his team kept Christian Eriksen reasonably quiet in Copenhagen?
“We did but that was more the shape of the team. He had his couple of moments, I think. It’s not easy unless you delegate somebody just to follow him around and try to stop him. Would I do that? No. Because that’s not always guaranteed to work because they’ve got other players.”
Despite the onus being on his side to get the goal or goals that will be needed for victory, McCarthy insists he would not be fretting if the game was still goalless with 20 minutes to play.
“No, I wouldn’t, although I wouldn’t be trying to achieve that. You’re all saying this is a one-off game. But that last 20 minutes is the one-off in which something could change. And I think they’d be feeling more nervous than we would then. They could lose it in that last 20 minutes.
“They’d be thinking one slip, one mistake, one bad refereeing decision, one bit of brilliance from anybody, could suddenly put you out of it. But I think (in terms of) them setting up for the game, they’ll think they can come here and beat us. And they will play that way.”
And Ireland, well, no surprise that they will play their way too.
“We’re not going to throw caution to the wind,” says McCarthy. “We’ll try and play the same way we did in Denmark, try and press them, get the ball off them, be offensive. But playing with gay abandon would be ridiculous. Of course, if it gets to that 70-minute stage and it’s still scoreless, we’ve nothing to lose.
“Going out on a 0-0 draw wouldn’t please me: we might as well have a go at it. And we would. But starting that way just leaves you wide open. You’re 1-0 down, and leaving yourself to score two goals, just causing yourself problems.”
McCarthy believes that the return of David McGoldrick is a real boost to Irish chances of success.
”There might be others who end up as good as him: Troy (Parrott) might end up as good as him. He’s not at the moment. Didsy’s a really good technical player and he aligns that with hard work and determination. All of a sudden he’s become one of the star performers.
But don’t entirely rule out the possibility, late on, of a cameo for boy wonder Parrott.
”Who knows, if the circumstances are right and all the stars are aligned and everything goes well, he might get a chance to come on,” says the manager. “He might not. He might be sat on his backside with me and not get anywhere near it. But who knows, that might change.
“Technically he is very good, he’s a good finisher. And we have just been talking about those 20 minutes or 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s those players who have that gift to be elusive in and around the box, to pick it up, sniff something out … it’s an option and when you see his movement, it could be one of those things on a night such as it is when it’s made for heroes: he might be the first one.”
But, in terms of his starting line-up, it’s the problematic right side of his midfield which presents McCarthy with what he concedes is arguably his toughest call. By the sound of it, he has come to the conclusion that such a demanding game has come too soon for Robbie Brady after his injury setbacks and lack of game time.
And, in the manager’s opinion, Callum Robinson — who would be one of the leading contenders for the spot — is at his best playing on the opposite flank. “Unfortunately there are about five others (for whom) that’s their best slot as well,” he observes.
Regardless of how McCarthy solves that dilemma, if this Irish team is to show tonight that they have in them this campaign’s one really big performance, then, as so often in the past, it will ultimately come down more to collective effort rather than that of any one individual.
“Don’t think for one minute we’re just going to dominate the game because that won’t happen,” says the manager. “They are a very, very good side. But have these players got a big performance and big result in them? Yes, because of the character of the players and the way they’ve conducted themselves throughout this campaign.
“Despite the fact we didn’t play well in Tbilisi and came away with a draw, we’re still in it. We could have been beaten in Denmark, we could have been beaten here against Switzerland. And if they hadn’t got the guts and balls and determination to get two results out of those games, we mightn’t even be having this opportunity. So that’s why I always believe in them. They’re fabulous.”
But can desire really make all the difference? “It does. Not ‘it can’. It does.”