SEAN ST LEDGER has told his Ireland team-mates they must learn the lessons of last night's masterclass by the Czech Republic if the Irish side are to get anything out of their meeting with Croatia in June.
Giovanni Trapattoni's game plan for that vital game against Croatia in Poznan, their opening game of the Euro 2012 finals, was to see how the Czechs played with Tomas Rosicky as their key man and then use that experience to counteract another great playmaker, Luka Modric, when the finals roll around in Poland.
Rosicky was absent last night after picking up an injury on club duty with Arsenal last weekend so Trap's plan didn't come to fruition.
But there were still lessons to be learned as the Czechs, bereft of big-names players but still a classy outfit, bossed the game for long periods, before Simon Cox earned Ireland a draw with his late equaliser.
"The Czechs were very, very dangerous last night and Croatia will be exactly the same," St Ledger told the Herald.
"They had a lot of the ball, their movement was excellent -- as a defender they were a nightmare to mark and to track.
"It was a tough, tough game and they kept the ball well in terms of possession. The Czechs were a very, very good side, I can't praise them highly enough.
"We are disappointed that we didn't keep the ball longer.
"But it was a good test for us, against a good side who have qualified for the Euros, and that game last night is a taste of what we'll have to deal with in the summer at the finals.
"It's going to be very tough in that first game against the Croatians but we know now what to expect. It will be a challenge against Croatia and we will deal with that when it comes along.
"We weren't as good last night as we potentially can be. I think we were good in the last 20 minutes but didn't do enough in the first 70.
"We gave it a go in the last 20 minutes, James McClean gave the crowd a lift when he came on and that, in return, gave the rest of the players a lift, and we got our goal," added the Leicester City defender.
"James did really well in training all week. We all knew from the Premier League what he was potentially capable of, but those of us in the squad have seen it first hand now, we know the talent he is and there is more to come from him.
"Hopefully, people won't put too much pressure on his shoulders just yet. He's still young and he needs time to develop and grow, but he is a real player."
After that long and pleasing run of clean sheets, Ireland have now conceded in three of their last four games but, for St Ledger, it's the unbeaten run -- 12 matches now and counting -- that's important.
"We are strong defensively and we showed it again last night, even though we had more changes in defence with Richard Dunne missing the game," said St Ledger after winning his 25th cap.
"Darren O'Dea came in at centre half last night and did well, it looks like it's going to be between me and Darren in terms of who will play alongside Richard when he's fit again. It's a tough battle but it can only be good for Ireland."