John Aldridge: Every Irish player needs to realise that this Serbia game is the chance of a lifetime
THE Ireland players that will take to the field against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium tonight are fortunate to have become millionaires long ago - but that will count for nothing if they finish their career with regrets.
So I hope some of them read these words from an increasingly old former player before they go into battle for Ireland in a crucial World Cup qualifier because they should all appreciate the opportunity about to be presented to them.
Forget the big houses you live in. Forget the fancy car, the beautiful wives and gorgeous girlfriends. Forget the lavish holidays and all the other luxuries that become the norm.
All of those bonuses are very enjoyable, but when you finish playing and you reflect on what you achieved, will all that wealth really be what you wanted?
Let me tell you this; when I look at my children and grandchildren, what gives me more pride than anything else is to say I achieved something with my beloved Liverpool and Ireland.
I won the league title with Liverpool in 1988 and helped the club win the 1989 FA Cup final, with those two achievements worth more than any of the money I earned in my playing days.
Then I look at my achievements with Ireland and they are on par with those big moments in a Liverpool shirt.
Ireland’s first appearance in a major tournament at Euro ’88 was a wonderful experience for the players and he fans alike.
Then reaching the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals and playing in the 1994 World Cup in America are right up there as the proudest moments in my life.
I only have to look at the reaction I get from the moment I get off a plane at Dublin airport to remind me what we achieved with the help of our manager Jack Charlton will never be forgotten by the Irish people.
Money and fame are irrelevant compared to doing something to make your family proud, or producing moments of sporting history that are instantly etched into the folklore of a nation.
None of us should begrudge the players in the modern game getting pay packets that are coming their way for a second because the money is flowing into our sport and they are entitled to get a fair slice of it.
Yet what they should never forget is the reason they are put on the pedestal they stand on is because they are in a position to be part of special nights that will be remembered for years to come and this evening’s game against Serbia is one of these big moments.
Every single player handed the incredible honour of pulling on a green shirt needs to realise that this is the chance of a lifetime against a Serbia side that are hardly world-beaters.
So let’s grasp the moment and to all the players I say this: make sure you do everything in your power to ensure you are not watching the World Cup finals on TV next summer.
Imagine what it would be like to play in that tournament, to be mixing it with the greats of the game on the biggest stage of them all.
That is what you got into the football for and from person experience, I can tell you that playing in the World Cup is biggest buzz you will have in your life.
It’s easy to have negativity around international football in a game dominated by the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, but we still have a chance to get an Ireland team through to a World Cup finals for the first time since 2002 and everyone involved needs to give it one last push.
I’m sure manager Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane will remind the players of the chance in front of them this evening, but it falls on the lads to take on the burden of responsibility.
This is the last chance many of this Ireland squad will have to join a select band of players who have represented our country in the biggest competition of them all.
Okay, we were crap against Georgia on Saturday. Martin and the players don’t need to be reminded of that unfortunate reality, but that match has gone now. The performance and the result in Tbilisi are irrelevant now.
For 90 minutes, all that matters is beating Serbia and as we have proved down the years, we can beat the best when it is least expected.
We need to have clear minds, to focus on what matters, have a clear plan and just go for it.
When Ireland do that, we are a tough team to overcome and the player need to keep reminding themselves that Serbia are not one of the great teams of the world game.
There is no reason to fear them. They don’t have Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to unleash on us and their record in recent years, especially on their travels, isn’t great.
This is not Germany or Spain we are up against. This is a half-decent team with a few good players who will punish us if we give the ball away as cheaply and make the defensive mistakes we made in Georgia.
We are better than what we showed at the weekend. We can beat Serbia, of course we can, and if we do that, then we can still dream of watching Ireland in the World Cup finals next summer.
The Ireland management, all of the players and the fans need to unite as one for this massive qualifier then our dreams can still come true.
COME ON IRELAND!