Scottish Daily Mail

O’Neill: Don’t do it for me do it for the Ir­ish peo­ple

- CRAIG HOPE re­ports from Dublin

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.

 ?? AC­TION IM­AGES ?? Talk­ing tac­tics: O’Neill and his as­sis­tant Roy Keane (right) yes­ter­day
AC­TION IM­AGES Talk­ing tac­tics: O’Neill and his as­sis­tant Roy Keane (right) yes­ter­day
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