LIAM MACKEY: We’ve more than fighting spirit, says proud Martin O’Neill

Martin O’Neill was too deflated to use such a flippant phrase but the one all his thoughts seemed to be tending towards after last night’s 1-1 draw in the Stade de France was “nice performance, shame about the result”.

“There is disappointment in the dressing room but I don’t think the players should be downhearted,” said the manager. “They should be absolutely thrilled at what they achieved in terms of the way they played. The disappointment is that we should be speaking now with three points on the board instead of one. And that would have given us a really great chance.

“But I think we’ve got more than fighting spirit in the side. We’ve got players who can play a bit, players who are improving at international level. Spurred on by a magical crowd, I thought there were some great performances there.”

Ireland bossed the first half but, despite creating a number of inviting chances, failed to find the net before the break, something which O’Neill felt was at the root of the final outcome.

“We didn’t have to say too much to the players at half-time, they were great, really great,” he said. “Dominant in the game, should have been in the lead. We played brilliantly but you have to put the ball in the net and we had the chances to do so. And that’s probably the reason we have one point instead of three.”

When the goal did come from Wes Hoolahan, early in the second half, it was definitely worth waiting for.

“A great, great goal,” O’Neill enthused. “Seamus Coleman did brilliantly and Wes was almost off balance, hits the ball with his wrong foot — if there’s such a thing — and I saw it, I was right behind it, and it was in from the minute it left his foot.”

Unfortunately, of course, it was an Irish player who also scored the equalising goal. Asked if he had reserved special words of consolation for Ciaran Clark, the manager returned to his main theme.

“I think he should look at his own overall performance and be particularly pleased with it,” he said. “It really is unfortunate because I thought we were coping pretty well with the pressure in the second half.”

Explaining his substitutions as a stunned Ireland sought to regain the initiative, O’Neill said: “All our substitutions that we put on were forward-thinking players because we were desperate to win the game.

“Of course there’s an element of tiredness setting in and then when we concede the goal, it’s an ugly setback. Some of the players hadn’t played for some considerable time as well.

“Wes was very tired and the last thing you want to do, if you do have problems, is for players to keep going and maybe do themselves further injury. We tried to win the game with the substitutions. Robbie Keane, James McClean, and Aiden McGeady came on. So we tried to win it, we tried to win the game.”

The first of those substitutions, however, had been enforced — and O’Neill had worrying words about Jon Walters’ hopes of featuring in the rest of the tournament.

“Jon’s not great,” he reported. “We’re concerned about him, yeah. Jon said he felt his Achilles quite early in the match but he saw it through to that particular time. We’ll have to see. We’ll check him in the morning again but it would be a concern for us.”

Walters himself was not much more optimistic later on. “We’ll see how it settles down in the next couple of days,” the Stoke man said.

But, overall, the manager was endeavouring to accentuate the positive at the end of another frustrating night for Ireland in France’s national stadium.

“To sum it up, I’m immensely proud of the team,” he said.

“I thought we played really, really well. I’m naturally disappointed and so are the players that instead of having three points, we’ve got one of the board. So we’ll have to try and do something about it in the next two games.”

A tall order, of course, considering it’s Belgium next and then Italy in the final group match. O’Neill was asked if his team would now need to produce something really special against either or both.

“Well, after today, I think that’s probably true,” he conceded. “It would have been great (to have won). I know how Wales feel — they have got three points on the board and it does make an awful difference. But we’ll fight it through.

“We have got the two games coming up, very, very tough matches against two sides who are pretty classy, but again, if I can take anything from the performance tonight against Sweden, it is just that the players looked accomplished, which was great. We have desire, we have a never-say-die spirit, but I thought they looked accomplished too and I think that’s players growing into international football, which helps.”

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