Stephen Kenny has a bit of previous with Hampden Park, mixed memories from his ill-fated stint at Dunfermline where the venue played host to a Scottish Cup semi-final win over Hibernian before a defeat to Celtic in the decider.
“It was nearly black and white, it was that long ago,” smiled the Ireland manager yesterday, with the 15th anniversary of that adventure passing earlier this year.
Living in the past is a dangerous game in his gig.
From a shorter-term perspective, that has a relevance this week. Kenny has happier memories of June and the emphatic defeat of Steve Clarke’s side at the Aviva Stadium, which lifted pressure from the shoulders of management and players. It was the best day of his tenure as Ireland boss, although he was reluctant to declare it as such.
“It was a very, very good performance, but we have to move on from it,” he said.
They are relevant words in the context of the selection dilemma that the manager faces. As it stands, all of the outfield players from that Scottish success are available for Glasgow on Saturday, with Caoimhín Kelleher the only starter to be ruled out of this gathering; Gavin Bazunu is a straightforward replacement.
Elsewhere on the pitch, though, Kenny has to decide if the combinations from that encounter are the ones that will work in Hampden. He anticipates a different game; Scotland are the home side and will be intent on revenge. Regardless of what happens against Ukraine tonight, one would expect a strong opening in a derby from the hosts.
But a problem with Kenny’s Ireland reign has been an inconsistency that one could easily link with the fluctuating club fortunes of his squad.
In the Covid-dominated early days in the gig, the light at the end of the tunnel was Kenny reaching a point where he would have something close to a settled side. And, in the aftermath of the 2-2 draw with Belgium in March, there was a feeling he was inching closer to it.
Callum Robinson and Chiedozie Ogbene had emerged as his starting frontmen, while Jeff Hendrick was back on song in a green shirt through the middle. Yet, in the June window, his loyalty to those players was questioned as they struggled.
The gap between the end of their club campaigns, for various reasons, was a significant factor, yet it highlighted how momentum can be affected in the intervening period. Michael Obafemi was suddenly the form player, yet Kenny was initially happy to lean on a formula which had worked for him.
Obafemi was superb against Scotland, linking up brilliantly with Troy Parrott in a way that allowed observers to salivate about their future effectiveness.
And there will be an obvious temptation to pitch them in again for the rematch. Robinson has been the top scorer under Kenny, viewed as undroppable last autumn, and yet most of the outlets ruminating over possible team selections this week have taken it for granted that he will sit it out.
This is where the manager will earn his money. It has been well documented that Obafemi has arrived under a cloud of sorts, an aborted move to Burnley putting him in the bad books at Swansea.
A two-minute cameo against Hull last weekend is the only football he has played in September, and his return for the campaign stands at one goal from eight appearances.
Scott Hogan’s hat-trick for Birmingham pointed to a player undergoing a resurgence, but the real form player is Ogbene, who is playing the best football of his club career now that Paul Warne has followed Kenny’s lead by deploying the Cork man as a central striker.
Ogbene’s tally for the year is five and benching a player in that mood on the basis of a magic afternoon for Obafemi and Parrott three months ago would be a risk.
Of course, it’s easy to be wise in hindsight and Kenny will probably be accused of picking the wrong defenders if the result goes against his team, as it’s the easiest charge.
It’s conceivable both Shane Duffy and Séamus Coleman will start as subs, although reuniting the back three from the Aviva — Duffy, Nathan Collins and John Egan — would be understandable, as Ireland may be pegged back at times. The big Derryman’s ability to defend the box may be better suited to this game than the visit of Armenia.
Still, Collins was imperious in the middle of the three against Ukraine.
There’s no expectation that Alan Browne will retain his place ahead of Matt Doherty.
But the trickiest call might prove to be in the centre of the park, where margins are fine.
We know that Kenny holds Hendrick in the highest regard and he seemed to be pretty happy with his union with Josh Cullen. However, he broke it up midway through the June slog and the energy and aggression of Jayson Molumby delivered real bite to the two better performances of that window.
Hendrick is now playing regularly with Reading, yet Molumby is more of a fixture with West Brom. Asked if it would be harsh to sideline Molumby now, Kenny said: “It would, but sometimes fairness does not come into team selection. You just have to do what you feel is right.”
It must be stressed that, in Kenny’s mind, June’s win was far from a perfect display. John McGinn missed a golden early chance arising from Duffy’s issues playing out. Kenny became animated as he recalled that the half-time message was to warn players against abandoning the tactic as a consequence.
“If you kick the ball long, you’re just giving it away a lot of the time anyway,” he said.
“We said at half-time to have conviction, don’t get caught again, but do it better to show that we really can play from the back. And I thought they did it a lot better in the second half, it allowed us to control the game.”
Together, that team learned on the job to catch Scotland cold. Kenny may have to shuffle the pack again to go in search for more of the same.