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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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Miguel Delaney's letter from Estonia; day 1

It’s a case of the calm before the storm, in every sense, as our man takes the scenic route – using ferry from Helsinki – to reach Tallinn in plenty of time for Friday.

FOR A COUNTRY that’s literally – in the non Jamie Redknapp sense of the word – Baltic, Estonia is surprisingly mild in mid-November.

On arriving in Tallinn this afternoon, it was an agreeable six degrees and very sunny.

No rain, no wind.

Some of the locals were getting away with a mere hoodie on the streets rather than heavy overcoats.

That will, of course, change by the time Friday’s play-off kicks off at 9.45pm local time when it’s likely to be freezing. But that’s still a far remove from the skin-shredding conditions you’d get here over January and February.

On a previous trip during that period, a friend explained how he had to seek temporary sanctuary in a McDonald’s during the three-minute walk from his hotel to the nearest pub because the hairs in his nostrils were starting to freeze.

None of that at the moment.

And Helsinki was the same.

In order to spare the expense account in these trying times, TheScore took something of a circuitous route to this game. Our journey began at 5.45am in Dublin for a flight to Frankfurt. From there, it was a quick dash across the airport to just about make another jump to Helsinki. Not the sort of energy you want to be drawing up after a mere hour and a half’s sleep.

From the Finnish capital, then, it was the infamous Superstar ferry across the Baltic to Tallinn.

Given how Ryanair immediately jacked up the prices exorbitantly once the draw was made, we saved almost €200 in doing so. Quite a difference.

Where’s Davy Keogh?

With that in mind, it was perhaps surprising that there wasn’t a single Irish supporter on the ferry that we got. The atmosphere was very sedate.

Granted, we have come a day early in order to make tomorrow’s pre-game press conferences in good time.

But the lack of fans availing of Tallinn’s old town early on is perhaps reflective of the surprising lull in the build-up to this game in general.

Despite the fact that Ireland could be on the verge of a first qualification in a decade, there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of epic occasion that has characterised previous play-offs. Sure, you can sense the hope in the air. But not quite the hype of old.

There are, of course, a number of possible reasons for that.

Most obviously, it could be too early. But, in saying that, the anticipation for the French play-off seemed to reach a frenzy weeks beforehand. Naturally, that could have a lot to with the level of the opposition. Unlike the spectre of the French, whose very reputation amped up the anxiety two years ago, Estonia are – somewhat logically – expected to be routinely beaten by Ireland.

And that has perhaps created the feeling that this game isn’t as urgent or grandiose as previous play-offs. Indeed, it’s the only time that Ireland have gone into such a game as favourites… other than the only successful eliminator: Iran in 2002.

More contentiously, it’s possible that Giovanni Trapattoni’s style has dampened the enthusiasm for some people. And, on a deeper level, the Rugby World Cup and the ferocious nature of this summer’s GAA senior football championship may have taken the edge off of the appetite for big games.

But, by the time Friday night comes – and the exact dimensions and possibilities of this game become apparent – all of that should change. Irish football could well whip up a storm again.

Even if the team should be grateful of avoiding one in Tallinn this week.

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