Scottish Daily Mail
O’Neill: Don’t do it for me do it for the Irish people
FROM the late joy of the campaign opener in Tbilisi to the despair of defeat in Warsaw, via the euphoria of victory over the world champions and a night to forget in Glasgow, the Republic of Ireland have arrived at their date with destiny.
All that has gone before matters not. When Martin O’Neill’s side kick off against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second leg of their play-off at the Aviva Stadium tonight, they will be heading for Euro 2016. A 1-1 draw in the fog of Zenica on Friday means a goalless draw is enough to see them through to next summer’s finals in France.
Forget misplaced and premature talk of ‘must-wins’ at home to Poland and Scotland — they drew both — the stakes of this standalone match could not be higher.
O’Neill’s mood only ever shifts between pensive and extremely pensive — save for the odd excursion into humour, usually with the UEFA interpreter, who yesterday he called redundant because the Bosnian journalists understood his English — but there was an added determination about his demeanour as he held court at FAI headquarters in a cold and windy Abbotstown.
‘It’s not about me or my managerial career, it’s about the Republic of Ireland trying to win a game and get to the Euros — if we can achieve that then it would be great, a big boost to the country,’ said the 63-year-old.
O’Neill is right, the effect of morale on a nation whose recovering economy remains fragile would be immeasurable.
The Ballsbridge Hotel — a goalkick away from the Aviva Stadium — is preparing for its ‘busiest night of the year’, while licensing laws could well be tested should the Republic qualify.
In O’Neill’s words, ‘It all boils down to this’, but it is a scenario he would have taken when the draw for Group D paired his team with Germany and Poland and an improving Scotland.
‘If you had said we had to win our final game at the Aviva Stadium to qualify for France, I would have taken that,’ said the manager, who is set to sign a new deal regardless of their fate.
‘The crowd will be behind us. If we can get the atmosphere we had against Germany then we have a fabulous chance.’
Again, O’Neill is right. The Aviva was electrifying the night they toppled the World Cup winners thanks to Shane Long’s late strike. Reproduce that partisan passion and the Bosnians — who had boasted about their own hostile surrounds in Zenica — could well freeze amid the intimidation of the Irish.
The Boys in Green did not freeze on Friday. Rather, motivated by the prize on offer and, in a defiant way, the cauldron of noise and colour that was the Bilino Polje Stadium, they emerged from the fog desperately unlucky to see Robbie Brady’s brilliant opener cancelled out by Edin Dzeko’s late equaliser.
On the flight back from Sarajevo the following morning, O’Neill would have looked around the cabin with a sense of satisfaction.
‘My pride in the side has been there from the start,’ he said. ‘There was a feeling beforehand that some players weren’t that bothered about playing for their country.
‘I certainly haven’t witnessed that in the two years I’ve been here. Our desire, determination and enthusiasm cannot be matched.’
Tonight’s game, though, will need more than mere commitment from the home side. With the tie so delicately poised, they will have to be cunning, too.
‘If we think we can keep that (0-0) for 90 minutes and camp ourselves outside our penalty area, that would be a recipe for disaster,’ said O’Neill.
‘We have to consider being on the front foot, genuinely. We want to be really, really positive.’
Having come this far, it would be unjust were they to end on a negative.
MARTIN O’NEILL expressed his sympathy with the victims of the Paris terror attacks, which were unfolding during his team’s draw in Bosnia.
‘It was horrendous and it puts a lot into perspective, including football matches.’
Asked if he was concerned about security at the Aviva Stadium, O’Neill said he was confident that the match would be well policed.