Martin O’Neill: Players weren’t ready to come home

Martin O’Neill believes if Ireland can reproduce the performance they put in against Italy, they have a real chance of knocking out host nation France in Lyon on Sunday.
Martin O’Neill: Players weren’t ready to come home

“Absolutely,” he declared last night. “We will have to replicate that performance from Wednesday night. We will have to produce energy when we don’t have the ball but we also have to go and produce the type of football we played that night. And we have to replicate it in spades. And I think we can. I think Wednesday night’s performance would go very close.”

O’Neill acknowledged that, despite the team’s fine display, the line between success and failure at the end was exceedingly thin.

“But is that not what life is about? Absolutely, yes. We would have got certain plaudits for playing very well against Sweden but not winning the game. Not many plaudits coming our way after Belgium. And, yes, it would have been a bit hollow (against Italy) as there would have been no point in playing that well and then coming in and saying, ‘it’s great, maybe it augurs well for the future’, all that type of stuff.

“It’s the present, we’re through and it’s a really, really fantastic feeling.”

“I genuinely don’t think — and I don’t want to make a big thing of this — that we were ready to go home. We were kind of feeling our way in the tournament and we certainly did not want to go home having left maybe the Belgium game as suggesting that’s what we could do. I just felt that there was something left in the team.

“I honestly thought, in terms of the pressure, in terms of trying to get a result, the football we played was great. And we were not playing against a very ordinary side. We were playing against a lot of talented players who I thought had a point to prove to themselves. In fact, in reality, I would have preferred to have played against the side who had played two games in four days and who had the same energy, or perhaps the lack of energy, that we might have had.

“We knew Italy made the changes, which was inevitable, but when you look at the players who were brought into the side, they were really top quality players. So the football we tried to keep playing was really terrific. If it answered some criticism along the way, then great.”

O’Neill revealed John O’Shea, a surprise omission for the game, had words of support for his replacement just before kick off. I think every one of the 23 would be disappointed if they weren’t in the starting line-up,” said the manager. “That’s the most natural thing in the world. I know this from my own personal experience. But he took it. I think he was over to some of the younger players as they were preparing for the game and giving them words of advice, particularly to Shane Duffy. And that was great to see.”

O’Neill was also pleased to see James McCarthy have his best game of the tournament so far. “James was part of a side that did very well against Sweden. James was also part of the side that didn’t do too well against Belgium. We conceded ground far too quickly to them in the game and then when we did have the ball we didn’t use it well enough. As much as the Sweden game gave us an enormous boost of confidence, it’s amazing how this game can maybe erode it. We didn’t play well (against Belgium) and we had to turn that around. I never really think I viewed it as a vote of confidence but it has given him a huge boost to come on and play as well as he did.”

O’Neill made no secret of the fact he would love to see Jon Walters — who did some light training yesterday

feature again at these Euros.

“I think Jon is desperate to be part of it. He has been a major part of the campaign. He is as big a reason as any as to why we got here and I think he will push himself to the limit, without thinking he would do himself any harm. If anybody deserves it he does, really, and I think we missed his influence in the Belgium game.”

The squad, who normally arrive in the host city on the eve of a game, will be travelling today, a day earlier than usual, in order that rest and recovery time is maximised in Lyon. Yesterday, the players were given the day off to spend with friends and family after what, O’Neill described with a grin, was ”a raucous” bus journey from Lille back to base camp in Versailles on Wednesday night.

“So we will see how they are and, if the bus trip is anything to go by, there won’t be too many fit,” the boss quipped.

O’Neill on…

Robbie Brady’s emotions in Lille

“Obviously, I hadn’t realised for a while — I should have done because he looks like him — that it was Robbie Brady’s brother he had gone over to. It was just fantastic. I think Robbie’s face epitomised the feeling in the dressing room and among the fans as well.”

Marco Tardelli on Jeff Hendrick

“Somebody mentioned to me last night that Marco Tardelli had said he’d recommended him to a couple of (clubs).

I don’t know if he recommended him about 10 minutes after the game last night or whether it was something he did a couple of years ago or was Jeff actually one of those players that didn’t have any brains. I’m not wildly sure what Marco was saying, talking about players who don’t play with their heads and then singling out Jeff for special attention saying he’s a really good player.

I’ve always liked Jeff. It’s not for me to say what happens at club level, it’s what he’s doing for us. And he’s been splendid.”

When Buffon met Martin and Roy

“He was very, very nice, very pleasant. It was really nice of him considering he’s been one of the great goalkeepers of all time. It was a wee bit more than (just congratulations), but it was obviously a lie (laughter). But I took it in great heart. No, he was more than complimentary, which was really nice of him.”

The manager’s words to Shane Duffy

“Don’t be singing on the bus on the way home. He is an awful singer. I just said how well he had done. He played as if he had played 35 international matches. It was no real surprise. You wouldn’t have believed that was his competitive debut. He was immense. And I thought the boy beside him, Richard Keogh, was excellent too.”

When he thought it was all over

“Seamus hugged me, jumped on top of me and nearly broke my back. Obviously, I thought the game was over — because the referee had blown his whistle. And then the little Italian player came up beside me, Insigne, looking for the ball. It was as big a surprise for Conte as it was for me. It was extraordinary really. Extraordinary.

It was the little Italian player who said, ‘this is not over’. I thought, ‘what are you on about?’ And he said, ‘the game is still going on, it is a free kick.’ And then, I thought, ‘for who?’

Then, when it was kicked into the corner, the fourth official said to me, ‘the game is over’. And I said I was pleased to hear it.”

The words (allegedly) accompanying Roy and Martin’s hug

“I told him to shave his beard. It was rustling my chin and I don’t want him to hug me again ever. He said, ‘You are an ugly sod’, and I agreed wholeheartedly. I then retorted and said he wasn’t Paul Newman either.”

Le Main de Henry

“The Thierry Henry [incident] is still probably causing some controversy — maybe more in France than it is in Ireland.

I think we have decided to forget about it. It will be a talking point obviously, but I don’t think it will concern us when we play the game. I wouldn’t have thought we’re using it as an incendiary force to get on with things.”

The last time he helped a team beat the host nation

“When I think about it there are definite similarities. We went on a journey in 1982 that brought us up against the host nation, who we had to beat to get through to the quarter-finals — and that was an immense moment for us and one that I will never forget. There are similarities between that and now facing France on Sunday.”

The Celtic connection

“(Wednesday) was reminiscent of some great European nights at Celtic.

We had a great European night against Juventus some years ago, the place was absolutely rocking.

We followed that up with a couple of other great European nights against [teams such as] Liverpool. The atmosphere was incredible.

That’s what it felt like (against Italy).”

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