St Ledger confident injured Dunne to be alright on the night
THEY have formed a decent partnership at the heart of the Irish defence, so it is no surprise that Sean St Ledger is particularly keen for Richard Dunne to overcome his niggling knee problem.
"I'll give him a cuddle later," joked the Preston defender yesterday, speaking jocularly enough to re-enforce the message from the camp that they fully expect the Aston Villa man to be ready for tomorrow's showdown with Russia at the Aviva Stadium.
It is 16 months since Giovanni Trapattoni stumbled upon his favoured centre-half pairing, promoting St Ledger for a friendly with Nigeria in London and a World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia.
From there, the pair's association has blossomed although there are no question marks about who the senior partner is, with the Championship player happy to take lessons on board.
"He's got that experience and know-how and he's played in the Premier League for a long time and done brilliantly," St Ledger said. "He's great on the physical side of things and great on the ball so playing alongside him with such great attributes can help me along the way. He's also a great talker and organiser.
"I'm sure he will be fine to play even if he has a little problem with his knee. He's a big strong lad. We need him and he is a major part of what we are trying to achieve. Obviously, for me, to play alongside someone like him with that sort of experience is vital."
St Ledger admits that events over the next week could well determine Ireland's destiny in their bid to qualify for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
Meeting Group B's top two seeds in the space of four days will have huge ramifications for Irish qualification prospects. All could be rosy next Tuesday night when leaving Slovakia, or it could be very grim indeed.
"I think they will shape the group," said the 25-year-old. "And the group will look more realistic than it does now.
"They are probably the two toughest games of the group without doubt, without disrespecting the other teams. Slovakia were in the World Cup while everybody knows the calibre of Russia.
"I looked through their squad yesterday and saw their players with top Russian teams and also in the Premier League."
That said, St Ledger's belief is that Ireland merely need to keep in contention, rather than declaring any of these matches 'must win'.
However, the dressing-room is fully aware that Russia's defeat to Slovakia last month has provided the opportunity to really hurt Dick Advocaat's team tomorrow night.
"I don't think it's a must-win game for us," said St Ledger, "although it's vitally important for us to set our stall out. I'm sure it would have an effect on the Russians if they were to lose to their two main rivals in the group, and it would probably damage their confidence."
That attribute is plentiful in the Irish camp at the moment, though, with St Ledger sure that the squad are in the right frame of mind to deliver a proper result.
"Without doubt," he asserted, "we've got off to a great start and it was a tough game in Armenia. I think we are fully focused on the job at hand."