Italy test will set Republic up for challenges to come
At Euro 2012 in Poland:
It was a fairly bedraggled look for first thing on a Friday.
As Gdansk's rush hour started to build, so dribs and drabs of Republic of Ireland fans bedecked in every kind of green-and-white fancy dress imaginable started to plan their route to Poznan.
The costumes had taken a battering in the long hours spent in the bars of the old town, and their owners' voices were harsh and hoarse after not just an hour and a half, but days of out-singing their Spanish counterparts.
The Polish TV crews loved it, relishing the opportunity to marvel at the Irish appetite for enjoyment despite a proper pounding at the hands of the Spanish.
The 4-0 defeat by world and European champions Spain means the Irish cannot make it through to the last eight.
Nonetheless, the pubs in Poznan will have restocked their cellars in preparation for another onslaught before and after the match against Italy - but once that game is played where are Ireland heading?
Despite qualifying for these Euros, Ireland's first tournament finals for a decade, and having only been robbed of qualification for the last World Cup by Thierry Henry's handball in Paris, the calls for manager Giovanni Trapattoni to step down were inevitable.
The Irish have been really disappointing in Poland.
Nobody expected them to contribute much attacking flair to group C, but few expected them to concede so freely against Croatia or to capitulate so completely against Spain.
While the Italians are deeply, and rightly, fearful of an Irish rally and the ability of one of their own to unpick their own hopes of qualifying for the last eight, Trapattoni and his side have some significant long-term decisions to make.
Some have questioned whether the 73-year-old Italian has the desire to go on for the remaining two years of his contract. But it would certainly seem he has, judging by the way he has bitten back at the critics in general and former Republic midfielder Roy Keane in particular.
It'll take some energy, however, to find a new generation of players, assuming that many of the elder statesmen of this Irish squad decide to leave international football behind them.
Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and even John O'Shea could all be forgiven for deciding that weariness demands they rest more and play less. None of them owes their countrymen anything after such magnificent careers and not far short of 500 caps between them.
Ireland's 2014 World Cup qualifying group is tough; along with Sweden and Austria they will be surely be chasing second place behind Germany, with Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islanders hoping to provide the occasional upset.
That campaign comes round quickly with a trip to Kazakhstan in early September followed Germany's visit to Dublin in October.
A good start is crucial and a decent result and much-improved performance against Italy could make all the difference in ensuring the Irish are in the right frame of mind for those challenges no matter who is in the team.