Back-to-back clean sheets against Moldova and Wales served to reinforce the solidity of the Shane Duffy/Ciaran Clark partnership at the heart of the Irish defence.
“We came in in similar situations, tried to get experience and wait for our opportunity,” Clark says of their parallel development.
“We both broke through around the same time, managed to have a good game or two.
“We’ve got used to training and playing alongside each other. You quickly learn what each other can do. We try and adapt to each other.
“Communication is a big factor, we try and cover each other at all times. If one misses the ball, hopefully the other is there to cover. To be fair to Duffer he doesn’t miss too many, especially when they’re coming in the air. It’s about being switched on and trying to prepare for the worst. Duffer’s been playing week in, week out at club level and he’s been doing really well.”
While his partner is thriving at Brighton, Clark has found himself caught up in a battle for his place at Newcastle United, Magpies boss Rafa Benitez recently preferring the fit-again Floran Lejeune. However, injury at the weekend to centre-back Jamaal Lascelles could see Clark make a quick return to the starting line-up.
“I felt I was playing well myself, but there was a league game a couple of days (after Ireland’s win in Cardiff), and that was the decision the manager made,” Clark says.
“Every player wants to play, and I was coming off the back of two good results, but it’s the manager’s decision.
“He’s experienced enough, his CV and his record shows that. If he says that, I’m happy to go with it. Obviously it’s frustrating sitting on the bench, but I’ll keep working hard.”
For Ireland, it’s a different situation, with Martin O’Neill happy to trust in the experience of a 28-year-old who now has European Championship finals experience under his belt and for whom the games against Denmark will be his second time negotiating a qualification playoff tie.
“The away game there was very tough with the conditions”, he says, recalling that foggy night in Zenica when Ireland took the first step in overcoming Bosnia en route to France 2016.
“It was a real bad night but we came through that and the achievement there and how proud we were after that game, and the excitement levels of knowing we were going to a major competition, I think that will hopefully spur the lads on to wanting more of the same now.
“Fingers crossed we can go there and get the job done and look forward to a good summer.
“But it will be hard as we know they are a good side with good individuals and everyone will have to be on it.”
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