Ten years ago today, some 300km up the road in Gdansk, fading Irish hopes of prolonging their Euro 2012 party were ruthlessly dashed by a Spanish machine in full flow.
t was a sobering experience from a football perspective, with optimism ahead of the competition proving to be ludicrously misplaced.
Prior to Saturday, the prospect of a return Nations League meeting with Ukraine in Lodz was a far from appealing one but the impressive dismissal of Scotland has allowed Republic of Ireland fans to arrive in Poland again with feelings of enthusiasm and hope.
The shelf-life of the good vibes will be dictated by what happens in the toughest match of the window with Ukraine set to field a stronger side than the second-string team which secured three points in Dublin.
It is the end of a long and emotional gathering for Oleksandr Petrakov’s group, with an illness running through the camp complicating it, yet they are hardly going to start talking about fatigue considering what is going on back home. He has succeeded in rotating his squad, whereas it was the lethargic showing in the first meeting between the sides that encouraged Stephen Kenny to find the formula which spectacularly clicked against the Scots.
Now, the test is to bring the best parts of that into this game, with the task stiffened by the unavailability of Shane Duffy and John Egan which has drained the Irish rearguard of experience. Duffy is suspended, while Egan is at home awaiting the birth of his child.
Add in the absence of Matt Doherty, Séamus Coleman and Andrew Omobamidele plus first-choice ’keeper Gavin Bazunu and it’s fair to argue that Kenny’s rearguard has been seriously depleted.
However, it says something about the strength in the department that it’s not prompting panic. Dara O’Shea is sure to start with the increasingly impressive Nathan Collins while the main question mark revolves around the identity of the third player. Kenny hinted on Saturday that Darragh Lenihan would come into the mix for a competitive start. The alternative would be to try Enda Stevens on the left of the three.
Lenihan (28) is in the process of completing a move to Middlesbrough after leaving Blackburn where he was club captain and made over 200 appearances at Championship level. He’s not a rookie, but this would still represent a significant test.
A key element of the decision would be deciding who plays in the middle as that role has such an impact on both distribution and the positioning of the line. Duffy sometimes has a tendency to fall a little deeper. Collins has performed so well on the right that relocating him might further impact on continuity but observers feel his long-term home is in the heart of things.
In reality, the larger headache is further up the park where Michael Obafemi looks set to miss out with a groin problem.
This is frustrating given how he looked to be putting his hand up as a potential answer to Ireland’s problems in that department. Balance will also have to be factored into the discussion of a replacement. Troy Parrott deserves to be retained, but Callum Robinson’s effectiveness as the No 9 when he’s out of practice is debatable. Chiedozie Ogbene is battling to be fit and is another option.
From a like-for-like perspective, Scott Hogan might be the closest in terms of style and he did well off the bench against the Scots and must be factored into the equation.
The engine room is another area where there’s a decision to be made. Effectively it revolves around whether Josh Cullen is able to go again. Jeff Hendrick’s benching for the Scotland game initially looked to be with this encounter in mind. The efficiency of the Cullen, Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight axis has posed a dilemma when looking to feed off the momentum.
He referenced Ukraine’s tactical flexibility, and they can keep Ireland guessing too. Their star man Oleksandr Zinchenko has played both in midfield and at left-back in this window and their media reckon he might be in the middle this time around. Ireland’s wing-backs James McClean and Alan Browne will be needed both inside and outside.
“We have been blooding players to give us this level of depth,” said Kenny, with a primary nod to his defensive situation.
“We may not have the level of experience and that’s something we have to contend with. But the margins between players in the squad are finite. We see that ourselves when we have 11 v 11 games. It is something that we are capable of dealing with.”
Kenny shirked a question about his entire reign as manager and the fact it has now passed the 25-game mark. The significance of this game might be that it tests the resilience of the next generation of big characters. Coleman, Duffy and Egan comprise Kenny’s leadership group and without them, louder voices need to make their presence felt.
It’s a slight contrast from a decade ago when Ireland descended on Poland with the oldest squad in the competition. McClean was the youngest squad member at 23. The average age of the squad for this encounter is 25.6.
To lean too heavily on the absentees veers into excuse-making territory before the game has started. Ukraine look extremely strong with the 2019 U-20 World Cup-winning squad filtering through. Their preparations have been far from ideal for understandable reasons but the one advantage of a long camp is the cohesion they have.
The Republic of Ireland need to develop it at shorter notice and put in a performance that proves Scotland was more than just a one-hit wonder.
Unlike in 2012, this Polish jaunt is a step on a journey rather than the final destination.