Euro 2012: Trap’s key men must deliver game of their lives against Spain
PURGATORY Tuesday. Halfway, we hope, between hell and heaven.
The Irish players were in chatty form after the only full training session in their Gdynia base between Sunday's defeat in Poznan and tomorrow's must-not-lose encounter with world champions Spain in Gdansk.
Later this evening, they will make the short journey from Sopot to the PGE Arena in Gdansk to stretch their legs in the venue for the game of their lives.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni and Robbie Keane will face the world's media, an exercise that can test the patience. It's all part of the circus.
So, yesterday's morning session at the home of Arka Gdynia was routine by comparison and, in the aftermath, some of the senior figures in the Croatian defeat came forth to deliver perspective on where their Euros ambitions stand.
Predictably, they said all the right things. If they don't believe they can achieve a result against the Spaniards, then nobody will.
There are five key actors who should have a major say in proceedings if Ireland are going to turn things around and stay in the competition.
The Donegal man was keen to speak; he was taken to the dope-testing unit in the wake of Sunday night's game, so we hadn't heard too much from the 36-year-old in the aftermath of a game when his fitness was questioned.
Roy Keane said he was sluggish for the first goal and the underlying point was that a right knee problem had neutralised a key player.
Given wanted to dispel that notion.
"The first goal, I saw a bit late," he said. "There were a couple of lads blocking my eyeline and by the time I saw it, I didn't react quick enough or get enough to take it around the post.
"The third goal (which came back off a post) just hit me smack on the forehead. It probably would have been better if I hadn't dived.
"Ideally, I'd have liked to have trained more over the last couple of weeks," he continued, "but I got a knock in the second day of our training. But now I'm in full training again. Did it affect me? Not really, no. I wouldn't have played if I wasn't 100pc."
What now? Given stressed the positives, pointed out that England secured a friendly win over Spain by hanging tough.
He says that the flatness that existed in the dressing-room after the game has been turned into motivation. It is suggested that Irish teams thrive in this kind of situation.
"I can only tell you on Thursday night or Friday morning," he said. "Sometimes, in the past, when everyone has given up on us, we've come out fighting, and we'll have to do it again."
The big man sat out Monday's recovery session with blisters, but took a full part in proceedings yesterday.
He spoke honestly in the aftermath of the Croatia game, acknowledging some refereeing mistakes without playing the sympathy card.
It was a tough night for the Aston Villa man, who was given a physical challenge by the imposing Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic.
He doesn't quite know what lies in store tomorrow. It depends on the Spanish tactics. If they go without a striker, then some of his strengths become redundant. The ball will be on the deck and it will prove to be a real test of concentration.
Then again, the movement of a lone striker, either Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente, could also pull the Irish rearguard out of shape.
Dunne feels it is time to draw on the spirit of Paris, praying that with nothing to lose, the entire team will find a different level.
"It was all or nothing then," he recalled, "and it's the same now for the next two games. We have to get points from both of them or win one of them. So there's got to be no fear."
The Irish skipper is under pressure. Nothing new, he would say. For over a decade, the team has relied on his goalscoring.
But the story of his finals to date has hinted at regime change. While Given and Dunne's well-being is paramount, some people are beginning to wonder if this Irish team can do without Keane.
And, while arguments of that nature before haven't really been grounded in reality, they look more pertinent now.
He has failed to last the 90 minutes in any game over the three weeks, and struggled to find space in the Croatian encounter. Inevitably, questions are raised about his preparation for the competition. A poor run of games in the MLS with a struggling LA Galaxy looks to have taken away the edge that was present in that successful loan stint with Aston Villa.
And his ire was raised yesterday when an unsuspecting non-Irish voice innocently asked if the relaxed winter had benefited his warm-up.
"I've been answering the same question for the last few months," he said, tetchily. "I feel the same as everyone else."
Tomorrow is the time to show that he still stands out from the crowd. Another lethargic display would prompt tougher questions.
It goes without saying that he's the main man.
There were no words from Trapattoni yesterday. Instead, his assistant Marco Tardelli fulfilled press obligations.
Tardelli rarely speaks above his station, and recommends that all serious queries about team selection are directed to the manager.
What you can take from his words yesterday, however, is that the Irish camp expect a different Spanish line-up tomorrow compared to the opener with Italy.
The management team feel that Vicente del Bosque played into Italian hands, and they anticipate that either Torres or Llorente will start.
So, as his team trained yesterday, Trapattoni paced around the side of the pitch, monitoring the actions of his players closely. He will have concentrated on the training partnership between Keane and Jonathan Walters, and the hunger of his replacements.
Simon Cox has jumped up the queue on foot of his training displays, and the manager applauded another fine finish from the West Brom man.
He walked to the bus deep in discussion with his fitness coach, Fausto Rossi. Significant, perhaps, as it will be a 14-man effort to deal with the energy-sapping Spanish way.
An actor or an extra? "There are 23 players," replied Tardelli, when asked if the Derry man would figure against the Spanish.
Only one of that 23 really turned heads in the second half of the Premier League season. And he could provide something different in a team that Slaven Bilic effectively branded as easy to read. Yesterday was just another day for the winger.
He has taken a full part in all training sessions over the past three and a half weeks, so he was an active presence in the 11 v 11 match and then engaged in some shooting and crossing drills with the reserve options before quietly making his way to the team bus, saying nothing along the way.
What can he talk about until he plays? It's understandable that Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady are the first-choice wide men, but Trapattoni's reluctance to spring McClean into the game is frustrating.
At Sunderland, senior players privately went to Steve Bruce and requested that he give the newly recruited McClean a chance. Bruce didn't trust him enough, and paid the penalty.
Trapattoni will be praying that he doesn't require a 'get out of jail' card tomorrow night, but McClean's directness could provide the escape route.