Wes Hoolahan: We must take the game to Scotland
Midfielder believes we have nothing to fear from Scots
ITS BEEN a long time - 207 days to be exact - since Shaun Maloney curled his shot past the grasping reach of David Forde and into the Celtic Park net to give Scotland a strong foothold on the road to France 2016.
It wasn't quite an Ireland B side which was fielded that night, but there were a few holes to be filled, due to injury, in the Irish line-up as players like Richard Keogh, Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick all got a (rare) competitive start.
Key men like Marc Wilson and James McCarthy were in Parkhead that night but as spectators, yet they are all back in the fold now.
And another one of the absentees from that night in Glasgow, Wes Hoolahan, believes that the passage of time and the current strength of the Irish squad gives Martin O'Neill an advantage over his old pal Gordon Strachan for Saturday's game.
"There is a massive difference between now and six months ago. Most of the players are back fit. To have the likes of James [McCarthy] (pictured) and Whelo [Glenn Whelan], who play week-in, week-out in the Premier League, back available can only be good for us.
All of the players are fit and raring to go," says Hoolahan, who played a key role in the equalising goal away to Germany in October but then missed out in Scotland in November due to injury.
Hoolahan said: "I watched it at home. We were a bit unlucky, it looked like it was heading for a draw which would have been a good result and then they scored from a set-piece and that was that - there was no coming back from that."
At least the ex-Shelbourne man is here in Dublin this week as there was a doubt over his availability. Norwich City were apparently keen for their playmaker to have a rest instead of heading to Dublin for an international double-header, because of an injury concern, though Hoolahan says the Canaries did not try to prevent him from travelling.
"They were OK. They were just saying that, because I hadn't been training for the last couple of weeks, to make sure that I looked after myself. But it's been fine and obviously I wanted to come in," he says, confident that his minor knee problem won't keep him out of the side for Saturday. "It would be nice to start or to be involved at some stage so I'll be doing my preparation right and training hard to try to put myself into the frame.
"The gaffer has shown a lot of faith in me. Hopefully I can do my best and show why he has shown trust in me."
While Saturday's game in Dublin will have the feel of a derby match due to the close ties and cross-overs between the two panels, Hoolahan has an extra insight into the opposition, as he's one of eight players from the Ireland squad who has played in Scotland (Hoolahan with Livingston, Darren Randolph at Motherwell, James McCarthy with Hamilton, and Shay Given, Daryl Murphy, Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane with Celtic).
His current Norwich team-mate, Graham Dorrans, played alongside Hoolahan in his spell at Livingston, and while Dorrans has not made this squad with the national team, both men can look forward to Premier League football with the Canaries next season.
"You don't really think about international football when you're at a team at the bottom of the SPL but I could see even then that Graham Dorrans was a great player," says Hoolahan.
"I wish I could have got to the Premier League sooner than I did but there's no point in looking back on that and regretting it.
"I was lucky to get the opportunity to play there for a couple of seasons. We got relegated but we won promotion at the first attempt and next season is something to look forward to. You just want to make the most of it when it does come around."
Fellow Canary team-mates Russell Martin and Steven Whitaker, however, are in the Scotland panel.
"I didn't get to play against them in Glasgow in November so it would be good to get the opportunity this time around," he says. They are confident of getting a result and going on to qualify but that's our aim too. It would be good to play against them and then catch up for a drink afterwards.
"For us, this game massively important.
We're at home and we need to take it to them, to win the game, to go above them in the table and put ourselves in a strong position for the rest of the campaign."