Robbie Keane and his teammates have a chance to repair the psychological damage they suffered at the hands of Spain at last summer’s Euro 2012 finals.
Ireland lost each of their three games in Poland, to Croatia and Italy and in between them Spain, who ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
Only Keane and central defender Sean St Ledger who started that night in Gdansk will do so against the Spaniards at Yankee Stadium, with Ireland having recovered substantially since with just one defeat in their last eight games.
Asked about the fall-out from a difficult campaign, the striker said: “It was difficult for everyone because of the manner in which we were beaten by teams, whereas in the past, that has never been the case.
“The way we set our stall out to play against these teams and how we are always a very, very hard team to beat, for whatever reason at the Euros, it just didn’t happen for us.
“In saying that, we were playing against the two finalists, Italy and Spain, at that time, the best teams. It was always going to be difficult for us, but the way we were beaten was disappointing for everybody.”
The transformation in fortunes has coincided with the emergence of a new generation of Ireland players, two of whom could face the daunting task of going head-to-head with Barcelona superstars Xavi and Andres Iniesta tomorrow (Wednesday).
Wigan’s James McCarthy has established himself as a first-choice central midfielder for his country in recent months despite being just 22, but he will be the senior partner in the Irish engine room alongside Derby’s Jeff Hendrick, 21.
Hendrick will make his first start for his country after three previous appearances as a substitute, and Keane believes the rise of pair, along with full-back Seamus Coleman, who will line up on the right side of midfield against the Spaniards, is cause for real optimism.
Asked if the outlook was bright, he said: “I do sense it now. I’ll be totally honest with you, a year or two years ago, I didn’t. That’s being totally honest with you.
“But now seeing the players in the last two weeks, the younger lads, the way they have stepped up to plate in training, they have been absolutely magnificent, so it’s certainly looking good now.”
New York was lashed by rain yesterday leaving Ireland wondering as much about the state as much as the dimensions of the pitch at Yankee Stadium.
However, Keane said with a smile: “You could play Spain in a phone box and they would still keep the ball from you. I don’t think it really matters to them, to be totally honest with you.
“Big pitch, small pitch, it doesn’t really matter, they are going to keep the ball.”
Derby midfielder Jeff Hendrick will make his first start for Ireland in New York.
The 21-year-old will line up alongside James McCarthy in a youthful partnership in a team featuring seven changes from the one which started against the Faroe Islands in Dublin last Friday evening.
Sean St Ledger and skipper Robbie Keane are the only survivors from the Euro 2012 clash between the two countries, which the Spaniards won 4-0 in Gdansk on June 14 last year.
Ireland v Spain: David Forde; Paul McShane, Sean St Ledger, Darren O’Dea, Stephen Kelly; Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy, Andy Keogh; Robbie Keane (Capt.), Conor Sammon.