Against Belarus, Robbie Keane will earn his 144th cap and hope to grab goal number 68 for Ireland while, by way of what it’s fair to call a striking contrast, Daryl Murphy will make his 21st appearance as he once again goes in search of goal number 1 for his country.
Martin O’Neill is well aware of how much of a confidence lift it would be for the Waterford man if he could break his international duck on the last outing before the Euros.
“Well, that’s true,” the manager agrees. “I think that would be a big boost for him, if all being well he starts on Tuesday, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t do. It would be nice for him to get off the mark. The longer you go without scoring a goal, if you’re playing international football, obviously the more concerning it is for him.”
No Irish striker of yesteryear knows that feeling better than John Aldridge who, so prolific at Liverpool in the late 1980s, found goals frustratingly hard to come by under the Jack Charlton system in which the forwards were effectively required to be the first line of defence.
Like Murphy, Aldridge went 20 games without scoring for Ireland before finally ending the drought in a friendly against Tunisia at Lansdowne Road in October 1988, although it would take another year before he got to open his competitive account in a game of much greater significance, with the celebrated brace away to Malta which confirmed Ireland’s place at Italia ’90.
“The first one is always the most important, take it from me,” says the man they call Aldo.
“You do question yourself and sometimes the goal starts to look a little bit smaller and the goalkeeper starts to look a little bit bigger. Did it play on my mind? Bloody right it did, because I never went more than five games or so without a goal at club level and all of a sudden I was doubting my own ability.
“I knew I was doing right by the team within our system and the way Jack played but, personally, it really got to me and really hurt me, if I’m honest.”
More than the goal against Tunisia, his double in Valletta was the real turning point, he feels.
“It was the monkey off my back and all my negativity disappeared and to (end up) scoring 19 goals was more like my goals per game average. I was always a goal every two games. But getting that first goal was a stumbling block for me and the hardest time I’ve had on a football pitch.”
Whether he scores or not tomorrow night, Daryl Murphy — barring a flare-up of his recent injury woes — looks assured of a place in the 23 for France, although his Ipswich teammate David McGoldrick may yet have something to say about that.
What we do know for sure, is that there’ll be late-night heartache in Cork for a number of players when O’Neill’s submission of his Euros squad by the 11pm Uefa deadline finally determines who will be left behind when the rest fly out to France.
The manager concedes that while it might have been preferable to have the last audition 24 hours earlier to give him a little more time to weigh up his options, he still thinks the disadvantages are outweighed by the benefits of being able to fit in an additional warm-up game.
Part of the manager’s original intention in setting up the match in Cork was to accommodate the possibility of a number of players being absent for the Dutch game because of club play-off commitments in England.
As it turned out, there have been only three — David Meyler, Keiren Westwood and David Forde — but O’Neill maintains that the back to back warm-up friendlies will still have served a useful purpose in granting extra game-time to others who need it.
“Like Jon Walters really needed Friday’s game,” he says. “Even though he’s played a little bit for Stoke, he really needed that game. And I thought he was blowing quite hard. And he’s a really fit boy. So he needed the game and the game was great for us.”
And, of course, tomorrow should also provide a final opportunity for a returning former Cork City player, Kevin Doyle, to make one final effort to convince O’Neill that he too deserves a place on the plane.
The manager says he’s “pretty close” to finalising his Euros squad but he remains open to persuasion and is acutely conscious too of how the unexpected can alter the best-laid plans.
“I would like the game tomorrow night for the possibility of everything,” he says. “Somebody coming up and doing well or somebody that I felt might be in the 23 might pick up an injury — a hamstring injury could be the worst because you know that’s going to take three or four weeks to clear.”.
“But if you’re asking me, yeah, I’ve a fairly decent idea about the (final squad).”