It's here. Most international breaks are dreary affairs, interrupting the rhythm of the life we have become accustomed to, this one is different. Denmark stand between ourselves and a first World Cup since 2002, and as we all become slightly uneasy as the nerves envelop us ahead of kick-off, Martin O'Neill spoke to the media after the squad's first training session since gathering. Here are the main talking points.
Jeff Hendrick is the main injury doubt for the first leg of the playoff tie against Denmark, having been substituted after an hour in last Saturday's win away to Southampton. He sat out training today, with O'Neill oddly reticent to specify the nature of the injury, the prognosis merely the injury is "somewhere in his body". In spite of that, O'Neill says he is "very hopeful" of Hendrick being fit for the first leg, and while he may not take a full part in training over the next couple of days, he will be available to walk through tactical work on set pieces and formation. Otherwise, James McCarthy, Richard Keogh, and Sean Maguire will not be involved against Denmark, missing out on the final squad through injury.
A hint at the approach for the first leg
If you want a vision of how Ireland will approach the game in Copenhagen, picture the Euro 2016 playoff away to Bosnia...albeit in a formation that is visible to the naked eye. Ireland were cloaked in fog in Sarajevo that night, but O'Neill was clear in the approach likely to be taken on Saturday night. Shane Duffy spoke about the hope that Ireland would score a couple of goals, but it will be the end closest to Duffy that will occupy O'Neill the most. "Our approach will be similar to the game in Bosnia", O'Neill told the media. "Keeping the tie alive is the most important thing".
This will be O'Neill's second playoff in charge with Ireland, and when asked if that previous experience constituted an advantage, O'Neill batted it away by referencing Denmark's previous experience. "Denmark were in the playoff against Sweden for Euro 2016, and ultimately they were disappointed that Ibrahimovic was the difference. They've improved a great deal since then".
Dealing with Eriksen
Among the most notable improvements from a Denmark point of view since that playoff has been the emergence of Christian Eriksen as one of the best and most consistent midfielders in the Premier League. O'Neill was full of praise for Eriksen, the only Danish player he named throughout the briefing. "Eriksen is a top-class player. He can elude tackles, and is playing consistently and very well for a club that just beat Real Madrid in the Champions League". When asked about his tactics to deal with the threat of Eriksen, O'Neill said that he would be "given the respect he deserves". Whether that means we could see a repeat of Keane-on-Overmars or not, we're not quite sure.
O'Neill has admitted that, if he had a preference, he would have picked Dublin 4 over Copenhagen as the ideal location for the second leg. While stretching to that, he was eager to play down its significance, citing a possible advantage the away side has should the second leg trundle into extra time, giving them an extra half hour in which to score The Precious Away Goal. This would not suit anyone involved with Ireland bar perhaps George Hamilton, given the added opportunity in which to explain the rule.
Such are the rules, even without further injury, it is probable that the Irish selection for the first leg will not be repeated. Yellow cards from previous games do carry over, with no less than ten Irish players in danger of missing the second leg should they be booked in the first leg: Darren Randolph, Ciaran Clark, James McClean, Daryl Murphy, Harry Arter, Shane Long, Cyrus Christie, Aiden McGeady, Shane Duffy, Jon Walters, Stephen Ward, and Glenn Whelan.
Denmark, for their trouble, have plenty of players in trouble too, with Eriksen, Thomas Delaney, Kasper Schmeichel and Simon Kjaer among the Danish players who may not have to acquaint themselves with the Aviva's November chill.
O'Neill admits that it is "an inevitability" some players will miss out, and criticised the rule whereby this still applied. " If you were to ask both countries, I think they would accept an armistice and scrap the yellow cards".