The odds are against Jim McGuinness making a go of it as a professional football manager but the Donegal man knows plenty about the mental side of sport and how it transfers across codes and other boundaries.

Now on the backroom staff with Celtic and working on his ‘badges’, McGuinness was taking his first ever training session with Donegal late in 2010 when he planted the seed that would blossom into the county’s second All-Ireland senior title less than two years later.

He looked on as his new squad ran through a routine drill at half pace, stopped it and then challenged them to do better. The same process continued time and time and time again until both he and the players knew they were finally moving at full pelt.

It’s a story he has told often in the years since. Why, he asked his players that day, would you give less than your all when the most exhilarating feeling in the world is to empty yourself and leave the field knowing nothing else could be given?

It’s a question you could ask about the Republic of Ireland with regularity.

For a country that is renowned - and often scoffed at — for a premium on its combative spirit, Ireland have a bemusing tendency to look flat and tentative, like some spotty teenager on a first date with a girl he knows to be way out of his league.

So it was heartening to hear Roy Keane talk on Friday.

Austrian boss Marcel Koller was reportedly taken aback by the assistant Ireland manager’s talk of ‘war’ at the pre-match press conference while Martin O’Neill claimed to be in the dark about his right-hand man’s pronouncements when speaking to the media the next day.

But it was O’Neill who had set the tone as early as Tuesday when, in response to a query about Ireland’s healthy position in the table relative to Austria, he spoke about how he wanted his team to push for the win and not lean on that four-point advantage.

This was a day to be seized. A win to be fought for.

A visiting team on the ropes, low on points and missing players. An encouraging display and win for the hosts against Uruguay the week before. The Aviva filled to the brim on a sunny summer’s day and a five o’clock start to fill the pubs and fuel the home crowd.

Cue disappointment.

Devoid of ideas with the ball and listless without it, Ireland again decommissioned their best hopes with a familiar reserve, and the result before half-time was mere glimpses of constructive attack and destructive defence.

James McClean’s thundering ball and man tackle on Zlatko Junuzovic on the half-hour raised only a smile from the man who left this stadium with a centipede of stitches up his knee courtesy of James McCarthy when he was last here for a 2-2 friendly in 2013.

The effect on Ireland was more pronounced.

Robbie Brady and Cyrus Christie had earned yellow cards within five minutes but more damaging was the opening goal, scored by Martin Hinteregger, which made Ireland’s failure to register a single shot on target in that 45 minutes all the more dispiriting.

Here’s the nub of the problem.

Keane spoke before Euro 2016 about how Ireland were never a silky, passing side. How the Republic had always relied on blood and sweat to avoid the tears. But one without the other has rarely got them very far.

Scan the archives from Hampden Park in ‘87 to Lille last summer and any famous Irish win was built on the twin pillars of that high-intensity harrying and a modicum of ability on the ball.

There was next to no method to the madness that was yesterday’s second half. Ireland could have conceded a second, third and fourth on a different day as Austria raided down the flanks with impunity but there was, at least, intent and vigour from O’Neill’s side.

It was Joachim Low who bemoaned the fact that his Germany side dealt with 99 long balls the day in 2015 when Shane Long pounced on the hundredth and Koller will have similar regrets after Jonathan Walters’ strike.

Not for the first time the Republic had climbed out of a hole of their own digging. One-one. A very Irish scoreline and claimed in a familiar fashion. Underwhelming and overwhelming in equal measure. Long periods of boredom and flashes of manic danger.

Turns out it was a war after all.


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