Moment of truth arrives for Ireland's Euro dream
There have been seminal moments in the past for Irish football when major events or fixtures changed mindsets and shaped the future.
John Giles' appointment as Ireland senior manager was one, Jack Charlton's another. Gary McKay's goal against Bulgaria in Sofia was a huge game-changer and the daddy of them all was Saipan.
This is one. Germany come to Dublin looking for three points and most of us feel that they will get them. Not many rate Martin O'Neill's chances of extracting a point out of Jogi Löw as better than slim.
Depending on what happens in Scotland, the significance of the next assignment in Warsaw on Sunday will then intensify or recede completely.
On Monday, after Germany and Poland, if Ireland fail to qualify, the consequences for the FAI and the game in Ireland will be considerable.
Football in Ireland is broken and has been for a long time. The League of Ireland is dysfunctional, the natural development path is through England and the Premier League dominates like never before.
O'Neill and Roy Keane have been big on positivity all week. But the overwhelming feeling surrounding both of these fixtures is bleak.
Not just a fear for Ireland's chances of making it too France but a more general disquiet.
Talk to anyone in the game, at any level and you'll hear the same complaints. No resources. No joined up thinking, too many old grudges and too many vested interests.
The result of all of that is the poorest crop of international players anyone can remember.
O'Neill and his players are the masters of their own fate until kick-off time tonight but nobody takes that seriously.
Roy Keane wondered why the team shouldn't aim for six points and it was a nice bit of media flannel. Most observers would be happy with one and a dig-out from our Polish friends
That's the stark reality. Without help first from Georgia and hopefully from Poland, Ireland's goose would be cooked or at least, in the oven for too long and charred at the extremities.
There was a great deal of soul searching after Saipan but apart from a few logistical improvements for our best players, the general picture has hardly changed at all and certainly not for the better.
Any reasonable view of progress made as a result of reviews and investigations into what happened in Saipan would be that our international senior team is considerably weaker ; that Ireland is not producing players at the same rate and the ones that do make it are, more than not, floating around the promotion/relegation battle in the Championship and Premier League.
In recent years the Scottish, Northern Irish and English development systems have delivered players when our own could not.
We have arrived at another crossroads and the next five days will shape a debate which is long overdue and has mostly been obscured by our focus on the senior international team
Just one result and the bandwagon, seriously in need of lubrication right now, would creak and groan into motion and all the bad stuff would be swept away for another day.
We can debate for hours about how the FAI has administered the legacy of the Charlton years and why Ireland's rugby team is now a better bet for the floating ticket buyer but a result against Germany and qualification for France would bury the bad news in an avalanche of hype.
It's a tall order for O'Neill. He has been dealt a cruel hand for this game against Germany. He is missing five who have started games in this campaign and Löw has a full squad to pick from. But the absence of Glenn Whelan, Séamus Coleman, Marc Wilson, James McClean and Stephen Quinn means that O'Neill doesn't have much to agonise about.
His only real calls are where he plays Wes Hoolahan and who plays up front, Shane Long or Robbie Keane.
As long as Hoolahan starts, nobody cares where his name appears on a printed team sheet. Norwich boss Alex Neil claims he is playing the football of his life and even if he has been underused and under valued at international level, you can be certain that Löw and his players have been studying him very carefully.
They've been studying Jon Walters too, our best player over the campaign and our best chance of a goal.
But when you run a finger down the list of likely starters for Germany, it doesn't seem to matter where O'Neill places his pieces. Löw and Germany will have an answer and it won't be one Ireland fans want to hear.
Prediction: Ireland 1 Germany 3
Ireland v Germany, Live RTÉ2/Sky Sports 1 (ko 7.45)
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