Football: STEVE'S DO OR DAI; UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland EURO QUALIFIERS: IRELAND V WALES, CROKE PARK, TODAY, 3.00pm If Ireland Fail to Beat Wales the Euro Campaign Will Be over. as Will Stan's Reign
Byline: Garry Doyle
ROY Keane spoke for half an hour, bruised a few egos, undermined yet another international manager and lashed out at the FAI.
Nothing new there then - but after issuing 3,000 words from the Gospel according to Roy on Wednesday, one sentence struck a chord more than any other.
"The Irish public," said Keane, "really just want one thing - 100 per cent effort from the players. That's all they ask for."
But it is a lot more than they got from their trips to Cyprus and San Marino earlier in this campaign when the sheer indifference of the two displays resulted in an unprecedented public backlash.
In the resulting blame game, the players to a man, shot the messenger and talked about the lowering of press standards - rather than taking the time to examine their own performances.
Had they done so then there would have been a lot of red faces because, in case anyone didn't notice, what happened in San Marino was unacceptable.
And if it happens again then we won't just be calling for a manager's head. Some bigger names and reputations will suffer.
Yet by yesterday afternoon Steve Staunton was insisting the past was a different country and that today would mark a new beginning.
"For those 11 men who are selected, this will be a special moment in their lives," said Staunton. "They've got to make the most of it.
"Those players will feel 10 feet tall when they walk onto that park. And anyone who can't raise their game will be really struggling."
The fact remains, though, that some already are struggling. Save for Lee Carsley, Paul McShane and Stephen Hunt - no one emerged from San Marino with any credit.
As a team, and as a management team, the level of organisation, imagination and tactical awareness was appalling. Worst of all, the body language of the players smacked of complete and utter indifference.
For this reason today is an important date in Irish soccer and not because it will be marked down as the day soccer entered Croke Park.
No, today's significance relates to the fact that a draw or a defeat would mark the end of a qualification campaign, eight months ahead of schedule - yet another new low in a winter of discontent.
"We need three points," said Staunton. "And then we need another three on Wednesday.
"I expect to win. I know the performance in San Marino wasn't great but preparations have been great this week. The players look sharp and I have no doubt they will produce the goods here." And, irrespective of what happened last month, they should do so because Wales - with the exception of their two poster boys, Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs, are easily beatable.
"The game-plan," said Bobby Robson, earlier in the week, "will be to stop Giggs and Bellamy, their match-winners.
"The key is for us to do a good man-marking job on them and to avoid being sucked up the field with space left in behind us."
Yet this easier said than done because Staunton will demand his players to come blasting out of the blocks today and dictate the tone.
"We want to set a high tempo from the start," said Staunton. "Start quick. Do things quick. Take the game to Wales and play them at our style."
Quite what Ireland's style is these days remains to be seen - but should we see a repeat of the Czech Republic performance then salvation is attainable. …