Chris Coleman says Wales are in Dublin to “take everything” from his close friend Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, as he also accepted that his Euro 2016 semi-finalists have become one of the continent’s “scalps”.
Ireland will do much more than claim that scalp if they beat the Welsh on Friday night at Lansdowne Road, since they would be seven points ahead of Coleman’s team at the top of their 2018 World Cup qualifier group with just five games left, potentially ending their chances of making the top two in an already tough group also featuring Austria and Serbia.
Both are currently unbeaten but, while the Irish have 10 points, Wales have just six. Coleman typically played down the idea that defeat would be fatal, but made a point of stating how he finally has a full first team for the first time since the historic 3-1 win over Belgium in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
Initially speaking about his relationship with O’Neill, Coleman said: “He’s somebody I respect a lot. He’s had a very good career, very successful and has a lot of humility. I like him a lot, [but] I’m here to take everything from him.
“We’re deemed now as a scalp,” Coleman added. “Getting something against Wales now is a huge result, in a way in the past it wasn’t. I’ve got a huge amount of trust in the players and why wouldn’t I? We’ve lost one campaign game in 16. That’s the truth of the matter. Whatever happens tomorrow, whatever happens in this campaign, these players, their attitude is the best I’ve ever seen.
“I don’t know what type of performance but we have a game plan, so will Ireland, they’re not top of the group for nothing. We’re in their backyard, we have to go home with something. People saying must-win, it’s more important for us than Ireland – it’s not. Even if we were six points clear, it’s the most important game because it’s our next challenge. They are pivotal games because you get halfway through the campaign to see where you are, this pressure is what we wished for, to see who will finish top. You get written off today, built up tomorrow, we will continue to do what we've been doing.
"We dropped points against Georgia, conceded late on against Serbia after a good performance, a point in Austria deemed not a good point because of what we did in the tournament. There’s no panic. There’s a long way to go, Ireland know that.”
Coleman was also asked about Irish assistant manager Roy Keane’s comments that they would have to hit Gareth Bale hard to stop him.
“Whatever they want to do. Whatever Ireland have got planned for Gareth it won’t be anything new… There’s nothing that’s going to come tomorrow he won’t be ready for.”
Keane wasn’t the only Irish legend to speak with a bit of edge, as John Giles downplayed the pedigree of some of the Welsh players, stating that Bale "has a bit to go before I would call him a great player" and Aaron Ramsey only "thinks he’s a great player but isn’t". Coleman dismissed this with humour.
“I must be hell of a manager then. I'm happy with those comments because it makes me look good.
“This said, that said – it happened last time we had a derby [against England at Euro 2016]. Me and Martin both know full well that when that whistle blows and we lock horns, it doesn't matter what is said, who is a good player, who is not a good player. We had two in the team of the tournament – one is Aaron Ramsey and the other Joe Allen. They have good players and these are two good teams. No matter what anyone says, the game is what matters.”