Stephen Kenny insists that Hampden Park will witness a Republic of Ireland side with “a new identity” when it takes on Scotland.
Steve Clarke’s side rose to the top of Nations League Group B1 with an impressive 3-0 home win over Ukraine midweek, but they were well beaten when they lost 3-0 in Dublin in June.
Scotland are on nine points after four games and with two games remaining they are two points ahead of Ukraine and five points ahead of the Irish, with Armenia one point behind in last place.
Republic chief Kenny, speaking at Hampden Park, where he did not reveal injury concerns ahead of Saturday night’s clash, believes his team is getting the traveling Irish fans excited – there will officially be 3,000 in green and white at the national stadium – and those who return home.
The former Dunfermline manager said: “It’s a great occasion with a full house at Hampden.
“It’s a very special game and both sets of players are looking forward to it.
“Scotland had a good win on Wednesday and we respect that, but we played well in the last few games.
“This is a new Ireland with a new identity.
“We gave 16 players their international debut in 18 months and the style of play is something Irish audiences are connecting with in important ways across the country.
“Wherever we go we are inundated with people who connect with this team, the mix of youth and experience.
“We had to suffer with some results in the rebuilding process, but we already sold out Aviva, 44,000, for the Armenia game on Tuesday.
“This gives an indication of the level of support in the country. People are excited about the team. The crowd has been extremely passionate and you would feel that if you were in the game against Scotland
“This will be our biggest support away from home since I joined – we’ve had Covid issues – but Irish fans travel all over the world and it will be a special game.”
Kenny insists he won’t dwell on the victory over Scotland, but insists his team has the potential to improve further.
He said: “This is a different challenge, a new challenge.
“We went into that game against Scotland after we lost two games, so we were disappointed to go into that game.
“But that means we’ve only had three defeats out of 16, we’ve seen the improvements to face Portugal and face top teams like Belgium and Serbia.
“We can see the team evolving. This is a new game. Scotland played very well the other night.
“But Scotland have been very good to Steve Clarke, so whatever we get we have to earn.
“We feel we can improve our aspects of our performance against Scotland in June.
“We are continually striving to improve, we are not at our full potential.”
Kenny was in charge of Dunfermline’s side, which lost 1-0 to Celtic in the 2007 Scottish Cup final in Hampden, having entered the already relegated game from the top flight.
The Irish manager’s memories are more personal before his return to the national stadium.
He said: “It was obviously a long time ago. There was tremendous support Dunfermline
“We had 18,000 fans, tremendous passion and it was a great race.
“We played Rangers, Hearts and Hibs on the way to the final and Craig Gordon was in goal for Hearts.
“I had four children under the age of seven in the final, the youngest was just one.
“They are coming tomorrow and of course the youngest is only 16 and the rest have finished school and are in the real world.
“That gives an indication of how long ago this happened.”