St Pat's must show belief to progress, says O'Brien
Captain confident Dubliners have game plan to upset odds and secure dream clash with Celtic
St Patrick's Athletic will fight against internal demons as well as the champions of Poland at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
Riddled with self-doubt – an issue which afflicts so many of Ireland's home-based professionals – the Saints are staring at a window of real opportunity. Victory would present them with a date with Celtic and with cheques worth up to €1m.
And yet, even though they are in the driving seat after drawing 1-1 in the first leg of this Champions League second-round qualifying tie, both their manager and captain conceded yesterday that Legia Warsaw remain the favourites.
"They have a budget of €25m," said manager Liam Buckley. "We can't compete with those finances."
Yet last Wednesday in the Pepsi Arena in Warsaw, St Pat's proved that they could compete with their players, holding a 1-0 lead for 53 minutes of the game until a stoppage-time equaliser provided the Poles with a lifeline.
While that performance and result convinced Buckley that anything was possible, his players still needed convincing.
"We have spoken at length," he said. "I've told them that it's doable and to believe."
Ger O'Brien, his captain and chief disciple, was the first to convert.
"Warsaw are a massive club and obviously still the favourites to go through," said O'Brien. "Think about it, they have ambitions of getting to the group stage whereas we just want to progress through this tie. That's the difference.
"We respect them, respect the fact they are a good side. We know (tonight) they are going to have a lot of the ball. But we need to realise immediately how good we are as players.
"We created the better chances over there. I was watching a recording of the game earlier this week and after 70 minutes a stat popped up on the television, saying we had seven shots on target to their one.
"That is the reality of what happened over there. We played well. So we need to show belief and carry that into the match. If we do that, and carry that attitude in as a group, we will give ourselves a great chance.
"We won't use anything as an excuse, the pitch, the change in venue. We have to make sure we are not a hard luck story. We need to go out, perform, work on our game plan and try to get through."
And should they need any extra incentive then the Celtic carrot is dangling in front of their noses.
"We have spoken about it and we are aware of it – it is there for us," said Buckley. "A match against Celtic in Dublin, at the Aviva, a competitive Champions League game – it does not get any better. It would be fantastic for St Pat's.
"That said, we could be out of the tournament tomorrow night. We have got to focus and make sure our full concentration is on applying ourselves, having a game plan and sticking to it, to give ourselves a chance of getting through the tie.
"Last year we got a draw away in Zalgiris and then in the blink of an eye we made a few mistakes in the return leg at home and were out.
"We don't have to go chasing after these guys. As it stands they have to score to get through. The onus will be on them to make sure they have a game plan to break us down.
"From our end of it, we want to be compact. Last season, when we won the league, we had the most goals scored and the least conceded. That is the mentality we need here."
As for Legia, their mentality also has to change.
"They might have taken us a little bit lightly in the first leg bearing in mind that some of the media asked us if we thought Legia would make it into the group stages this year? With the greatest of respect, they still had to play us and go through another two rounds?
"Their expectations were, and are, massive.
"I know they will have learned quite a bit from us last week and by now will know that we are not too bad a side.
"Equally, from our point of view, we have watched them over the last month and have a handle on them as well.
"Hopefully we can get the result."
One man who hopes they can't is Henning Berg, the former Blackburn Rovers defender and now Legia's manager. "If we play to our highest standards then we can win the game," said the Norwegian.
"One point I'd like to make, though, is that we didn't underestimate St Pat's last week. We expected it to be tough. And it was. But we have yet to play to our capabilities.
"Already people have spoken to us about Celtic – who most people regard as a much better team than St Patrick's. My job is to dispel all that talk. My main job now, and the only focus, is on St Patrick's to make sure we play to our best level.
"At Legia, there is always going to be pressure when you are at this club but I prefer to be in a job and at a club where there is pressure because that means you have a chance to succeed."