Maik Taylor will celebrate his 38th birthday today and come tomorrow night in Poland he hopes to have his cake and eat it.
The veteran shot-stopper may have nerves of steel but he also knows that defeat in Chorzow could blow out his side’s World Cup candle.
The champagne will certainly remain on ice as no birthday party will swing into action until after this crucial double header with Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualification hopes resting on a knife-edge.
Seven points from three matches should have the Green and White Army marching to the travel agents, making the Poland clash and home battle with Group Three leaders Slovakia on Wednesday, make or break showdowns on the road to South Africa.
The pressure has been cranked up and Taylor doesn’t need to be reminded that time is running out for him to don the gloves in a major tournament.
“I’m 29 on Friday,” said Taylor with a mischievous grin. “It would be a nice treat to mark it with a win in Poland but I’m happy to forget about the birthday.
“All our focus is on the game and it would be nice to celebrate with a good performance and some points in the bag.
“On Saturday evening, we will have a few quiet ones. People have kept asking me how long I am going to play for but the body feels great and I’m enjoying training.
“If Nigel (Worthington) feels I’m doing the business he will pick me. I have lost my place in the Birmingham City side to Joe Hart but I’ll keep fighting on that front.
“I’ll knuckle down and I can only hope the manager (Alex McLeish) will be fair to me.”
Poland players had the smiles wiped off their faces at Windsor Park in March — none more so than Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc who helped Northern Ireland’s cause with his embarrassing airshot which allowed a back pass to trickle into his net. But Taylor is not interested in prolonging his counterpart’s agony.
“People can say that Artur made a mistake but I don’t see it that way,” he added. “It was just unlucky for him as the ball bobbled up over his foot and it could have happened to me as I struggled with back passes.
“I asked for back passes to be put wide of the goal as I knew the pitch was not good. I felt for him but he’s a top drawer goalie — there’s no question about it. It was a freak accident and Paul Robinson did something similar.
“People can comment on that incident or the trouble that surrounded the game at Windsor but this is just a massive game with the incentive there for us and anything that happened at Windsor, on or off the pitch, is history. We have to worry about this game, nothing else. All we want is a good result.”
Poland will be looking to bombard Taylor’s goal as the home side go hunting revenge for that 3-2 loss and the crowd will demand a handsome win but the man who was born in Hildesheim, Germany, is relishing the white hot atmosphere.
“This will be a huge test of character for the lads but I’m confident we can deal with it,” said the former Fulham keeper.
“The most intimidating atmosphere I had was away in Turkey when I was on the bench in one of my first games.
“Alan Fettis was in goal and we got beat 3-0. The game was an 8pm kick-off and come 2pm there were already 10,000 Turks in the stadium. Some of the boys had their pockets picked as well from the dressing rooms during the game.
“But the lads are chomping at the bit, ready to get going. It is crunch time and it is great to be in with a shout of qualification.
“Everything is still to play for though this will be the most difficult game we will have to face to date.
“It will be a tough one but we are more than capable of beating teams like Poland.
“In Slovakia and Slovenia there was nothing in the games but they got the breaks. Hopefully we get them this time.
“Our defence has been the bedrock for us for years and when the oldies play the young ones in training, the defenders are in our team apart from (David) Healy!
“They have invaluable experience and play at the highest level. In the international team they have played together for years so it’s great to have that understanding.
“The young players are gaining experience and the results are coming.”
Everyone in Northern Ireland wishes Taylor a happy birthday. That cake should be in safe hands.