It’s hard to see how taking on Switzerland on their own patch could be anything other than a seriously daunting experience for Ireland but Enda Stevens will be only too happy to be back in the thick of things in Geneva tonight.
Having fallen victim to the yellow peril the last time the Irish faced the Swiss — picking up his third card of the campaign for a high boot in the game in Dublin in September — the Sheffield United left-back was confined to a watching brief for Saturday’s scoreless draw with Georgia.
And it wasn’t an experience he would care to repeat.
“No, you’re kicking every ball and you’re more anxious watching it than you would be playing it,” he says. Not that, frankly, there was a whole lot to see on a night of stalemate.
“It was a game that didn’t really have much,” he concedes. “The pitch was hard to play on. We trained on it the day before and it was rock solid. The ball bounces all different sort of ways but we dug in deep and created the better chances with Aaron (Connolly) coming on and he looked lively.
“It was a solid enough performance. We hit the post early on and if that had gone in, it would have been a different game and it would have been more relaxed and settled.
It was just an edgy game on a difficult pitch. The positive thing is it’s still in our hands. It was important that we didn’t lose that game.
Having had an active rather than passive role the last time Ireland faced tonight’s opponents, in that 1-1 draw at the Aviva in September, Stevens already knows from first-hand experience just how good the Swiss can be.
“I’ve never played against the likes of Germany or Spain but I can’t see them being too far off them as they have picked up a lot of good results over the years,” he says.
“They have a way of playing and sometimes we found it difficult in the Aviva but second half we played a lot better than in the first half and got to grips with how they played. Hopefully we can carry how we finished that game into tonight and really put them under pressure. We always rise to the occasion.”
In truth, a salient aspect of Ireland’s campaign to date — particularly against the Swiss and the Danes but also even right at the death in Tbilisi — has been the team’s predilection for being late rather than early risers.
“We’ve always finished games strongly,” Stevens observes.
Don’t get me wrong, we still want to get the first goal as early as possible and take the lead but we’re always confident and we are a threat from set-pieces. Especially in Denmark we did that.
“I don’t know why that happens. It’s just how games pan out. We hit the post in the first few minutes on Saturday and it was a great header from Eegs (his club mate John Egan). He had an excellent game and defended really well when he had to. I’m gutted the ball didn’t go in for him with the header.
“If that had gone in you would have seen a different game then. That was the disappointing thing — that we didn’t build on that chance like we should have done. They didn’t really create much and they didn’t have a shot on target. And we still came away with the best chances of the game.”
Which brings us back to the young man of whom, perhaps unfairly, so much is now expected.
“Aaron has put himself in the manager’s thoughts and that’s what you want,” says Stevens. “You want players to give the manager a selection headache. “He was excellent on Saturday and showed a few glimpses of what he is about when he came on there. He has put himself right in the mix and that’s all he can do.”
As for Ireland’s hopes of qualifying directly from this group, Stevens is very clearly a man of the glass half-full persuasion, with two games left to play and one victory required.
“The positive thing is it’s in our hands and we’re well capable of going away and getting a result,” he insists. “We’re still unbeaten and we have put ourselves in a great position with two games left. We know it’s going to be difficult against Switzerland but every game in this group has been difficult, it’s not been easy for us.
“We have done well to get ourselves to where we are and we just need one last push and hopefully that’s tonight.”