Martin O’Neill has admitted assistant Roy Keane went to war every time he pulled on his boots after hearing him challenge the Republic of Ireland to put their bodies on the line.
Ireland face Austria in a potentially pivotal World Cup qualifier in Dublin on Sunday with Keane having told the players they need to match the selflessness of skipper Seamus Coleman, whose campaign is over as a result of the horrendous double leg fracture he suffered against Wales in March.
Asked by an Austrian journalist about Keane’s assertion that the Republic need to “go to war” in the Group D showdown, O’Neill, who was sitting alongside striker Jonathan Walters, said with a smile: “Did he say that yesterday, did he?
“I don’t think Jon or I would be surprised about that. I don’t think anyone would be. I understand what he’s saying. Roy went to war every single time he played for about 14 years.
“I think what he means is that you have to have a real strong mentality, be ready for it, be ready to battle through the game, because qualification matches are exactly that, they are tough games to play in and it’s really hard work.
“We have to be ready for that hard work for a start and we have to match the Austrians’ ability.”
Victory would leave Ireland seven points ahead of Austria with just four games to play, and while O’Neill is well aware of what is at stake, he knows his team will have to perform to its best despite the injury and suspension problems which are set to rob opposite number Marcel Koller of several key men.
He said: “Obviously it’s a big three points for both countries, it really is very, very big. Now we’ve crossed the halfway stage, tomorrow starts the second half of the tournament for us, and we just have to try to grab these points. Every point is as important as the ones before.
“We just have to try to do our utmost. If we have done our utmost, then there is not much more I can ask.
“I don’t think that we’ve got the ability to carry players in the team. We have to really be at it all the time, and that’s one of our strengths, I think.
“But if we drop off… We just can’t afford to do that, let me put it that way.”
O’Neill too has selection problems with striker Shane Long having joined Coleman on the sidelines, although mercifully not for as extended a period.
Cyrus Christie will deputise for the Everton full-back, while Walters seems likely to get the nod up front, although O’Neill was otherwise giving little away.
Asked if he had decided in his own mind on the identities of the 11 men who will walk out before kick-off, he said only: “Well, I should have a fair idea by now.”
O’Neill’s men remain unbeaten in the campaign and returned from Austria in November with three precious points, courtesy of James McClean’s lone strike.
Victory this weekend would significantly increase their prospects of claiming one of the top two berths, and that will be O’Neill’s only aim.
He said: “For us, we have really got to start strongly in the game. We’re at home, we have to try to take the game to Austria and really be positive right from the start.
“Austria have the capability of causing us all sorts of problems and we have to be on front foot if we can, but also aware of their dangerous players.”