Straight-talking Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy has stoked the Euro 2020 play-off fire by dismissing the challenge of rivals and neighbours Northern Ireland.
The Republic and Northern Ireland are on course to clash in a highly anticipated all-island showdown at Windsor Park on March 31 for the right to reach the finals in the summer, provided both teams come through their respective semi-finals.
McCarthy's men will travel to Bratislava for their semi-final with Slovakia on March 26, while on the same evening, Michael O'Neill's proud warriors will be in Zenika to tackle Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The two countries haven't met in a competitive encounter in Belfast for 26 years when Jack Charlton's side hammered Bryan Hamilton's team 4-0 during qualification for the 1996 European Championships.
But there was an all-Ireland friendly in Dublin 15 months ago when neither side were able to break the deadlock, although it was widely recognised Northern Ireland dominated throughout, created the better chances and the Republic's performance and result was a contributing factor in manager Martin O'Neill parting company with the Football Association of Ireland.
However, McCarthy, who replaced O'Neill, believes if his charges are able to overcome Slovakia in the semi-final, then the Republic will generate so much confidence that one victory will lead to another.
"We all know it's hard, we can sit here and waffle about it all day long, but we've got to believe we can," said the Republic boss when asked about the difficulty of stringing together two major performances on the road.
"The first one is the key one. If we win the first one, I think we'll win the second one. We'll get momentum and we'll win the second one. But we've got to beat Slovakia first and they are no mugs by any stretch."
McCarthy said there’s no reason to be fearful of an all-Ireland showdown at Windsor Park where his team would have to cope with a raucous home support.
He is adamant his players would be able to cope with any partisan atmosphere.
The former Ipswich boss added: “I’m not going to be intimidated going to Windsor Park to be honest. And I don’t think the players are going to be because if we end up playing them, it means we’ve beaten Slovakia.
“If (Republic senior players) are getting intimidated by going anywhere then we’ve got a real problem. It might be the case if we’ve got kids playing.”
VAR will be on hand for the March play-offs, the first time the system has been available for a game involving either the Republic or Northern Ireland.
It was put to McCarthy that it might help to compensate for the absence of home advantage in the sense that all decisions will have to be scrutinised regardless of crowd pressures.
“I’m not completely against VAR, just how it’s been used,” he said, with a reference to the harshness of some marginal offside calls. “I do think there has been some great decisions by it and the right team should win if the decision is right.
“It is what it is. It’s there. I can’t do anything about it. I’m hoping it (the story) is VAR helped us and that Mick McCarthy is very lucky because he’s been giving VAR stick for all this year and then it helped him qualify with two great decisions.”
Meanwhile, former clubs and team-mates of Jackie McNamara have sent their best wishes after the former Scotland international fell seriously ill.
The 46-year-old is understood to have been admitted to hospital for brain surgery.
John Hartson, his former Celtic team-mate, stated that McNamara had collapsed on Saturday with a “bleed on the brain”.
McNamara’s family wrote on Twitter that he was receiving the “best care possible”.
Reports say he is being treated in Hull, having first been taken to hospital in York after collapsing near his home in the city on Saturday.
A post on McNamara’s personal Twitter account read: “This is Jackie’s daughter. Thank you all for your kind words and support. My dad is getting the best care possible, as you all can understand this is difficult for us and request privacy at this time.”
Hartson wrote on Twitter: “Worried sick for my former team-mate and great friend Jackie McNamara who collapsed at home with a bleed on the brain... my thoughts are with his wife Samantha and the children.”
The Scottish champions wrote on Twitter: “The thoughts and prayers of everyone at #CelticFC are with Jackie and his family.”