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O'Dea: We're not there yet

IRELAND defender Darren O'Dea has warned Irish fans to hold off on the celebrations following Zbigniew Boniek's favour to his old boss Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday by pairing Ireland with Estonia in the Euro 2012 play-offs.

Irish football breathed a sigh of relief as the team avoided very tricky trips to places like Istanbul, Podgorica and Sarajevo and instead were put into a two-legged play-off with Estonia, a side generally seen as the weakest team in the play-offs, if only for the fact that they lost to the Faroe Islands.

But Leeds United man O'Dea, who helped Ireland secure a win and a clean sheet in Andorra last week, says it would be "stupid" to start celebrating already and begin planning a trip to Poland and Ukraine.

"I think this is the draw we wanted. If you could have picked one team from the draw it would have been Estonia, but there's no point in us being all happy and celebrating now, the only thing that matters is that we're smiling at the end of the second leg," O'Dea told the Herald earlier today. "On paper it's the game you'd want but we still have to go and win the tie. Our main aim will be to get a good result out in Estonia and then finish off the job in our own place on the Tuesday night.

"Ireland haven't been to a major tournament in a long time and with so much at stake, it would be dumb and stupid of us now to get complacent and think we've done the job before we have kicked a ball.

"With the enormity of what's at stake for us I can't seen any player in the Irish squad being complacent.

"But we can be optimistic. At the start of the campaign, if someone had said you have two games against Estonia to make it to the European Championship finals we'd have taken that, that's not us being arrogant, it's the fact of where we are now.

"But we can't be too happy about the draw now. All I care about is that everyone in Ireland is happy after the second leg in Dublin," he warned, aware that Ireland will have the rare experience of being favourites in a play-off.

"It's something we have to deal with," says O'Dea. "We were expected to win both of our last games, against Andorra and Armenia, but they weren't easy matches. It's the same against Estonia, we're expected to go through but that doesn't mean we will go through and I know we'll have to play to our very best to go through."



CONTRAST

Whatever about the football side of the tie, the draw was very kind to Irish players and fans in terms of travel -- a stark contrast to the nightmare trip to Andorra, via Barcelona, last week.

"The trip to Andorra was very tough, the closest airport was three hours away so that made things hard for us, so Tallinn is good for us on that front," says O'Dea.

"But when you're playing international football you have to deal with the conditions no matter where you are. You can go and play Spain in the nice sunny weather of Madrid or the cold and snow of somewhere like Estonia, we have to get on with it. Maybe they'll have an advantage of having their home leg first but we have a massive advantage of the second leg in Dublin and I feel we can get the result out there to set us up for the home leg."

A glance through the squad list of the Estonian panel would test the knowledge of the biggest football anoraks around: top marks for anyone who knows -- without resorting to Google -- the whereabouts of clubs like Lombard-Papa, Sogndal or Gomel?

But again, O'Dea has warned about over-confidence.

"We don't know a lot about their players now. In some ways it's easy when you come into a game and you know the players on the opposing team. There's no need for homework as much, but it's different when you don't know the players that well," he says.

"But we have a lot to play for and I know our manager will leave no stone unturned to prepare us for this tie, and we will know all about them by the time we play them."

O'Dea has played his part in this campaign, most recently away to Andorra last week when he played in central defence and kept a clean sheet, though the Leeds United man dropped back to the bench when Richard Dunne was available again for the Armenia match.

"I feel I have made progress this year, I've achieved more than I'd hoped," he says.

"I played in almost half of the campaign, four of the 10 qualifiers, and I played in a lot of the friendly games too.

"I want to be a regular and all I can do is take chances when they come my way and remain patient.

"The likes of Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger are ahead of me and have been in the Irish squad for years so I have to be patient and I'm not worried or frustrated in any way. As long as the team are doing well I am happy."