Callum O’Dowda is desperate for the Republic of Ireland to make it to the Euro 2020 finals after missing out last time around.
Four years ago, the then Oxford midfielder edged his way on to the international stage as a 21-year-old as manager Martin O’Neill finalised his squad for the tournament in France, but ultimately did not make the final cut.
He had no arguments with that decision at the time, but having seen what it meant to the country, he is determined to sample it for himself heading into Thursday night’s play-off semi-final in Slovakia.
Asked how big a game the showdown in Bratislava is, Bristol City’s O’Dowda said: “I’d probably say it’s one of the biggest. For me, it is probably the biggest.
“I had a chance to go to the Euros four years ago with the squad, and the feeling around the squad was incredible. I came into the set-up and everyone was so happy. Everyone was confident, I wish I was on the plane.
“I don’t think I deserved to go anyway as the players that got the squad there deserved to go, but I hope we can get there again and I’d love to go.”
This time around, things are very different as new manager Stephen Kenny attempts to guide Ireland to the finals after replacing O’Neill’s predecessor Mick McCarthy.
It is three years since the Republic last enjoyed a significant competitive away win – their only other success on the road was in Gibraltar – when James McClean’s strike secured a 1-0 World Cup qualifier victory in Wales.
O’Dowda was on the bench that night at the Cardiff City Stadium as O’Neill’s men turned in a gritty display, and he knows it will take something similar behind closed doors in Slovakia if they are to book a winner-takes-all shoot-out with either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Northern Ireland.
He said: “We will be well drilled and we need to get a win, whatever it takes, we need to get a win.
“Not having the fans in the stadium – I know it’s so difficult with what’s going on in the world right now and it’s so tough – but we constantly have to remind ourselves. When you’re in the stadium, it doesn’t feel the same at all.
“The game against Wales when Jimmy McClean scored the goal, honestly, it was crazy. It is so hard to replicate that as the fans have so much importance and they are the 12th man for us, but the lads know how important this is and for the country, it is massive.”
O’Dowda started Kenny’s first two games, Nations League clashes with Bulgaria and Finland last month, but limped out of the second with a groin injury which has prevented him from playing since.
However, he is confident he is ready to start if a manager with whom he has already been impressed turns to him once again.
He said: “I’m definitely really impressed with the manager so far. He’s the best I’ve worked with in terms of the attention to detail and man management side.”
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) revealed a backroom staff member of the Republic side has tested positive for coronavirus. Contact tracing has identified two more personnel who are “restricting their movements”.
The trio are “asymptomatic” and “well”, according to a statement from the FAI, which said all players, management and other backroom staff have tested negative.
The team have been given permission to travel to the Slovakian capital on Tuesday afternoon.
Harry Arter’s thigh injury ruled him out of the squad and led to Kenny handing a first call-up to Anderlecht midfielder Josh Cullen.
It continued a busy week for the 24-year-old, who made the switch to Belgium on Monday having been with West Ham since the age of nine.