Jeff Hendrick doesn’t recall many of Ireland’s historical play-off successes, but the latest decider, in which he’ll play a central part next month, is certainly one he’s optimistic about overcoming.
As it becomes increasingly likely Martin O’Neill’s side can expect to be unseeded in Sunday’s draw for the Euro 2016 play-offs, so too does the heightened standard of opposition.
Croatia, Sweden and Ukraine all represent formidable opposition over two legs. Yet, nothing on the scale Hendrick and his colleagues nullified during a momentous night at Lansdowne Road five days ago.
“We’re a difficult team to play against,” reasons the Derby County midfielder, at this stage a first-choice midfielder for O’Neill after getting the nod for five qualifiers in a row. “We’ve got to remember that and bring that into the play-off.
“Easily, we can look back on some good stuff we’ve done in this group. Beating the world champions Germany after drawing with them away prove we’re a match for any team.
“Look, Germany and Poland have some world-class players and there was little between us and them over the four matches.
“We were feeling low from the defeat of Sunday night, because we just didn’t create enough chances to score the second goal, which was needed to put us through automatically.
“It would have been nice to get second and know you’re definitely qualified, but third is not a bad situation to be in. It is home and away fixtures now in the play-off. We’ve nothing to fear.”
Richard Keogh, another member of the Irish colony at Derby County, insists the tag of underdogs suits Ireland going into the crunch stage of the campaign.
“A lot of people wrote us off during the qualifying campaign and we showed great determination to get ourselves back into contention for direct qualification and the play-offs,” he said.
“No one fancied us against Germany and look what happened. Not for one moment did we doubt ourselves. We’ll go into the play-offs full of confidence.
“The manager is a proud man so, like us, was very disappointed at not getting another goal against Poland to put us through.
“Now, we have a play-off, another chance of getting to France. All that we’re thinking of is qualifying and how we do it really doesn’t matter in the end.”
Unlike Hendrick and most of the other players, except Shay Given, Robbie Keane does have the experience of play-off euphoria in the treasure trove of memories.
“We’ve been successful in the play-offs before,” he said. “Obviously, having that hunger and desire, knowing that there’s a massive prize at the end of it, playing at the European Championships... some players never get the opportunity to play in these competitions.
“We’ve been lucky enough that we have quite a few who know what it’s like, the atmosphere that gets created around it for everybody. To have a European Championship on your CV, that’s an opportunity that the lads certainly have to be mindful of.
“We all have to go on thinking that we have a great chance, regardless of who we get, because we’re a good team.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved