James McCarthy has outlined the extent of his disappointment at last week’s showing against Belgium, admitting it left him feeling the lowest in his career.
The Everton man’s lack of match sharpness was exposed as the classy Belgians punished a couple of his errors to score twice on their way to a 3-0 win.
McCarthy was substituted by Martin O’Neill on the hour, raising fears the axe would fall for Wednesday’s concluding Group E fixture with Italy. Instead, Glenn Whelan was the midfielder to be omitted.
That decision was vindicated as the Glaswegian delivered his best display at the Euros against the Italians, although he’s finding it difficult to banish the Belgian battering from his mind.
“The days building up to the Italy win were tough after the Belgium result,” said the 25-year-old.
“I was at fault for a couple of the goals so I was just delighted to be involved against Italy. My performance against Belgium wasn’t acceptable and I knew that.
“It wasn’t good enough so afterwards I felt completely gutted. I had people there for me, my family were constantly on the phone to make sure everything was fine. My team-mates were also there for me along with the management. They all stuck by me.
“I still didn’t know I was playing against Italy until an hour and a half before kick-off. I was nervous, wondering if I was going to play or not, after the Belgium match.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the team, but I’m just delighted I was able to help get this win and get us over the line. When the manager named the team, I was determined to repay that faith. I had been low, the lowest I’ve been in my career. But people picked me up and I went again.”
McCarthy believes Ireland can now go on take another scalp at the tournament on Sunday when the host nation, France, stand in the way of a place in the quarter-finals.
“The win over Italy was easiest the best night of my football career,” he admitted. “The feeling when we scored was just incredible.
“But it’s not over. It was a massive result but we need to get back at it. We’ve won a huge match, yet we need to go again and can’t get carried away because Sunday is such a big game.
“My family came over to Lille for the game, as well as family back home supporting me, so it was just an amazing night.
“We’re now in the last-16 but we’re not just thinking ‘that’s great that we’re there,’ we want to push one and go one better again and make sure we don’t let ourselves down. It’s going to be tough, playing the hosts, but it’s all there for us.
“They have top players and we’ll respect them but we won’t stand back and admire their players making passes.
“We’ll get right up against them and make sure they know they’re in a game. It’s a case of making sure we go out and give it our best shot.”
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