Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes has given a revealing insight into the training sessions that are bringing an extra edge to the players.
Senior players like Hughes find themselves face to face with the rookies in bounce games - and the Fulham defender admits pride is at stake. It is part of manager Nigel Worthington's bonding strategy and Hughes believes the pre-match tussles are ideal preparation for the vital World Cup qualifier against Slovakia at Windsor Park on Wednesday night.
Hughes said: "We don't like to lose. The young lads have had a couple on us a few times and a few of the old heads don't like it."
He added: "We had it after Tuesday's session and it was quite competitive. We nicked it to bring the series to 2-2 for the trip.
"The games between young and old are spirited without being silly, we don't go in kicking each other. Normally we play in each trip so we will have to carry it on to the next one.
"Nigel's training is very good in terms of getting out what we want to get out and at the same time we can have a bit of fun in the games and stuff.
"It's all geared towards preparing us the best we can be so that if we lose a game we can turn around and say it was because we weren't good enough on the night, not because of something we did on Thursday or Wednesday.
"That level of professionalism has helped us a lot. These little changes are just what we needed and might take us to the World Cup."
Victory against Slovakia will see Northern Ireland go top of Group Three and their form in big matches at Windsor Park suggests they could pull it off.
Hughes said: "We know how to win games matches now, we know what it takes both physically and mentally. At home we've just got into a rhythm and we've got a bit of momentum going through the atmosphere, the confidence the lads have of playing at home with no fear."
Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE: http://gms.to/writeforgms