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Stephen Hunt: Irish will have to fight a thousand little battles in Tbilisi - just like mine with Berbatov


Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov vies for the ball with Ireland's Stephen Hunt during their 2010 World Cup qualifier. Photo credit: BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov vies for the ball with Ireland's Stephen Hunt during their 2010 World Cup qualifier. Photo credit: BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov vies for the ball with Ireland's Stephen Hunt during their 2010 World Cup qualifier. Photo credit: BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images)

Maybe they'd call it a late tackle. If the reporters were being kind, they might say it was 'mistimed'. All I remember is that I wanted Dimitar Berbatov to go away. "Jesus, Hunty, you smashed him," one of the lads said later. That wasn't what I intended. I just wanted him to leave me alone.

We were in Sofia. It was a game, like so many games under Trap, that we were expected to lose. Like so many under Trap, we didn't.

Berbatov kept coming over to my side of the pitch for goal kicks. I don't know what he was doing there, but it wasn't what I was expecting and I wanted him to get back up front where he could be languid and elegant and Richard Dunne's problem. So I kicked him. I'd probably call it a sharp tackle if anyone was asking, but all I know is that Dimitar Berbatov stayed upfield after that, which was one little battle won.

When you go to places like Sofia or, for Ireland today, Tbilisi, the game is a thousand little battles. Ireland might play more football under Martin O'Neill than they did under Mr Trapattoni, but if they're doing their jobs today, it will look like the same old battles. The battles you need to fight in Tbilisi, Sofia, Paris or Bari. I think we will need a Trap performance today and we can start thinking about the pretty stuff at home to Gibraltar.

This is why Martin O'Neill won't feel he's learned that much from all the friendlies. He'll know a lot more after today. In fact, he'll probably know a lot more about his side after 20 minutes.

An away match is about those thousand moments that decide the game. If you win one, you can't think the war is over because it usually leads on to the next challenge. Once I had kicked Berbatov, I knew what was coming next: the crowd. They went mental and were on my case from that moment, so that was the next test. I wasn't going to win them over, so instead I tried to get on the right side of the ref, hoping that my influence could be greater than the crowd's. I spent the game talking to him, even if he didn't understand, hoping that when the time came, if I made another late, mistimed or sharp tackle, the referee would think I was one of the good guys doing something uncharacteristic which wouldn't happen again.

I was good at talking to refs, which might not surprise you. Glenn Whelan is good at it, too. This is Glenn Whelan's job. Glenn never stops talking. Outsiders might look at the team and wonder why Ireland can't find somebody with more of a range than Glenn Whelan, but when you play somewhere like Tbilisi, Glenn's a man you want out there because he talks and he tries to control the pace of the game.

We got lucky against Georgia in 2008 when the game was moved to Germany. That was the first game in the qualifiers as well and it took away some nerves to know that we wouldn't be facing a hostile crowd. In fact, the most hostile thing we faced that night was Trap in the hotel bar afterwards when he had his infamous confrontation with Andy Reid.

There is no assistance today. I'm not sure if the manager will change the routine, but during my time with Ireland, things always worked well with travel. They'll stay on Irish time over the weekend, so the body doesn't need to do too much adjusting and the important thing is that players get to eat at the right time, but that varies a lot now. Players have their own diets, which they like to stick to.

We always liked to have a walk around wherever we were staying the night before, although it wasn't something Trap was too keen on, so we'd have to sneak out. We were only looking for a coffee shop. People watching we called it, but if I remember anything from a place like Podgorica in Montenegro, it's how easy the women were on the eye.

Trap wanted us locked up, which could cause its own frustrations, but he was used to a different way. We prepared by relaxing and taking our minds off it. In all the coffee shops I sat in across Europe before games, I can't remember too many conversations about football. It was usually anything but football.

But we had a squad that trusted each other. Everybody says that a game in a place like Tbilisi is scary, but if I know the Irish players, they won't feel that way. Shay was always vocal at the back. You could hear his voice over any crowd. David Forde is a different type of player, but he raises his game when it matters, as some of his performances have shown.

Richard Dunne will be missed. He was quiet, but he had such a presence, whereas John O'Shea is more vocal, but he's also a calming influence. Players look up to John. He's won a lot of medals and that experience counts for a lot. I read an interview with Aiden McGeady in the Irish Independent last week. He said people would forget about him when he went back to Russia and now he is in the Premier League, he could show people what he could do. I agree with that, but see it kind of differently.

I'm delighted he's in the Premier League because there's no hiding place. He has had a lot of hype about him for years and now he has to show what he has to offer on the biggest stage every week. People might have forgotten about him in Russia, but they didn't know if he was good or bad, week in, week out.

There has been some talk that Robbie mightn't start, but I'd be surprised. This is never said out loud, but here's the deal with Robbie: we know that he saves himself to score goals for Ireland. We know that whoever plays alongside him will have to do his running. We know that we might play better football with somebody in the team who could drop off and get involved. We know that Robbie doesn't have the legs to get around the pitch, certainly not now. We know all this, but - unless you're in competition for a place with him - we don't really care. Because we know that Robbie will score the goals that mean we leave somewhere like Georgia or Macedonia with the points. We know that, so nothing else matters.

I read once that George Graham used to tell his Arsenal players when they showed up at Norwich or some place like that, "Let's get the three points and get out of this country town." It's the same today. Robbie always helps you leave town with the points.

Sunday Indo Sport