IT’S a fixture full of overlaps, a meeting loaded with obvious comparisons. Ireland versus Scotland set to the stage of Celtic Park is an international of parochial proportions - the 2014 edition at least.
Like the best local rivalries, the lines of division blur under scrutiny and somehow widen, upping the tempo, raising the stakes.
They have climbed steadily for two teams who have enjoyed something of a revitalisation under Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. Both have stirred interest again among indifferent publics. Both have injected hope and optimism and no small amount of excitement.
From the day Ireland and Scotland were drawn to face each other, the fixture pitched O’Neill and Strachan, two Celtic heroes, were set on a collision course.
It was easy to frame the fixture as a personal challenge then, somewhat more difficult to envisage the kind of shared success needed to harness significant public support, thereby widening the narrative.
There has been a squabble about tickets off the back of this interest - and who could have predicted that ahead of the 1-1 draw against Germany, or the victory over Georgia. But with a limited hand O’Neill and Roy Keane have teed-up the most important Ireland fixture on the Britain’s mainland since Patrick Kluivert left Jack Charlton unstuck in front of thousands of Irish fans in Anfield in 1995.
Best not to dwell on that game. Better to revert to closer comparison and dwell on Ireland’s victory over Scotland in Hampden Park in 1987. Then, Mark Lawrenson stole through the Scottish night like a wisp of good fortune to hit a goal that changed the complexion of Ireland’s campaign.
If all the nostalgia pedalled has been rich and comforting then the complexion to date has been just as compelling. John O’Shea executed the impossible against Germany, Aidan McGeady, the unlikely against Georgia.
In between, Gibraltar offered little, but a result on Friday would offer plenty of optimism.
It is going to be difficult and tight, against the backdrop of a stadium that will endure a degree of social spilt in terms of the Scottish born Celtic and Ireland fans, and who they will support.
It’s a high-stakes parochial battles built on shared values, overlapping personnel, one of Ireland’s most popular clubs, players born in Scotland, but lining out for Ireland, two ex-Celtic managers, honest endeavour, and more.
It’s not winner takes all but it’s vital not to lose.