Martin O’Neill has talked up his 23-man Republic of Ireland squad ahead of the Euros while playing down any possible comparisons with a Leicester City side that has set the bar for underdogs.
Speaking alongside Roy Keane at the ‘Bon Voyage to the Boys in Green’ evening at Cork’s Opera House, O’Neill was in jovial mood as he looked ahead to the tournament which pits Ireland against Sweden, Belgium and Italy in Group E.
But talk of ‘doing a Leicester’ was met with caution. “I think it is unrealistic. Leicester have come up and what they have achieved is phenomenal, at club level. It’s obviously the highlight of the century so far, but I’m not so sure you can draw that comparison with things.
“You’re talking the very best players playing for their countries - Spain, Germany having all their best players available. We go ourselves. First, we can’t think about what’s happening in other groups. Let’s try and get out of the group for a start and deal with anything that comes up.”
Keane echoed those thoughts and the unlikely prospect of winning the tournament was far from the assistant manager’s mind earlier on Wednesday when he had stern words for many of the players who featured in the loss to Belarus.
“That’s what sport does to you,” said Keane. “I said a few things to the media. I was joking with some of what I said, it was tongue in cheek. But, yeah, it’s nice to have a little setback to remind you of the hard work ahead.
“You look at the group we’re in, it will be very difficult, but we’ve quality, good experience. Of course, it’s easier said than done. It’s all good sitting here making promises about how well we’re going to do, we’ve got to go and do it.”
Yet Keane was also quick to point out Ireland will be better against Sweden than was the case against Belarus, while O’Neill was lavish in his praise for the 25 players who played their parts in securing the Republic’s France place.
O’Neill and Keane had heard talk about how the increasing sums of money swirling through the pro club game had neutered the desire of players to play for their countries, but they have found the opposite to be the case.
“There is a love of the country for a start, the players do want to turn up, they want to play, there is only the odd exception. They live on the northside of Cork,” Keane joked. “But spirit alone is not enough. You have to have some ability and we’ve shown glimpses of ability I think the players have a good mentality. Their strength wasn’t shown (against Belarus), bu,t overall, when the big moments arrive, they showed they were up for it. They’ve come through.”
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