CIARAN CLARK is happy to continue his education in international football under the watchful gaze of experienced duo Richard Dunne and John O'Shea.
The 24-year-old Aston Villa defender won his ninth senior cap for the Republic of Ireland in the daunting surroundings of Cologne's Rhein Energie Stadion on Friday night as he was asked to play his part in trying to keep Germany at bay with Dunne and O'Shea both suspended.
Dunne (34) and 32-year-old O'Shea may be approaching the ends of their respective careers, but Clark is confident they both still have a lot to offer and is desperate to learn everything he can from them before they finally hang up their boots.
He said: "Every game is important. For me personally, it's an honour to be able to play, but I am sure Richard and John have still got a few more games left in them.
"I will keep learning from them and hopefully just being around the squad, I will pick up more and more, whether I play with them or train with them.
"That's all I can do, keep going and hopefully take on board what they can teach me."
Clark partnered Crystal Palace's Damien Delaney in the heart of a re-modelled back four in Germany, but with Dunne and O'Shea having returned to the squad for tomorrow night's final Group C qualifier against Kazakhstan, interim manager Noel King is likely to turn to experience once again.
However, whether or not Clark is involved, he will return to his club a better player for his adventure in Cologne.
He said: "It's always difficult playing teams who don't really play with a striker because they just float everywhere. They are very clever players.
"They try to pick up space in pockets and get themselves turned, and it's always hard to defend because you obviously don't want to get dragged out of your space and get caught in two minds.
"It's difficult playing against them, but it's a good experience for me and the rest of the squad."
Things might have been different had Clark's header crept under the crossbar rather than cannon back off it with the score at 1-0 seconds before the half-time whistle, but the 'luck of the Irish' deserted them on the night.
He said: "If that had been a goal and we had gone in at half-time at 1-1, it's a 45-minute game then, we would have been level and it's a different game.
"We were a bit unlucky. If we had got the luck we needed and got the goal, maybe it would have been different, but it was one of those games."
Defeat in each of their last three competitive matches – by Sweden, Austria and the Germans – means Ireland's qualification hopes are long gone, and minds are already starting to turn to the next campaign.
However, while the Kazakhs' visit to the Aviva Stadium may count for little in terms of the group standings, it is one from which Clark and his team-mates are determined to emerge victorious.
The defender said: "We will definitely be looking for the win. We are back at home and we will have our home support. It's the end of this campaign, but we will be looking to go out with a bang and hopefully get a win and end on a high."