20 sportspeople, reporters and fans look forward to Euro 2016 and reveal their own predictions for Europe's festival of soccer.
Honest and committed, but I fear we’re just not good enough
Ruby Walsh (Champion jockey)
“I’m as patriotic as the next fella, and I would love to think they’re going to do well, but let’s be realistic: They qualified for the finals through a qualifier after finishing third in their group, and I can’t see any reason why they will be appreciably better just five months later.
“They play as a team, have a great manager and assistant manager, but I don’t think they are good enough collectively. There are much better teams in the competition, and if they get out of their group, I think that’s as good as they’ll do. If they get three draws that might be good enough to be a third-place qualifier for the next round.
“Look back at the top-class team we sent to the European Championships in ’88, and they couldn’t get out of the group. We went to the World Cup in 1990 and got to the quarter-finals, but that was another world-class team. There were stars all over the field. They were all Premier League players, playing for Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and even Aston Villa, who were doing well at the time.
“The current squad is made up of decent players, but we don’t have a Paul Pogba, or a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or a Gareth Bale.
“One thing we can be sure of is that they will do their very best, but you have to be realistic. They have done brilliantly to get to here and if they get out of the group it will be another major achievement.
“Look at the rugby team Ireland sent to the World Cup and think how far short they fell. Our soccer team wouldn’t be ranked as highly as them on the global stage. They’ll be tight, they’ll be fit, they’ll be committed, but this is the European Championships and, at the end of the day, that’s not going to be enough. Of course I’m hoping they’re going to do a Greece, but I don’t think it’s realistic. I’d dearly love to be wrong, but fear I’m not.”
Famous fan flies his second Ireland flag
Davy Keogh (Ireland supporter)
‘I’ll be bringing the flag, no problem there,” says Ireland’s best-known supporter, who has been saying ‘hello’ at internationals, home and away, for over three decades.
“This is only my second flag — the other was robbed at Croke Park when we played Poland — but the very first time, at Euro ’88, I just had a white sheet with ‘Davy Keogh Says Hello’ on it. I’ve been to all the tournaments since but, last time round, in Poland, I thought we were expecting too much because we were in a hard group.
“But even though I think this time we’re possibly in an even harder group — don’t forget that Belgium were ranked number one when the draw was made — and we’re really the underdogs again, I do think we’re slightly better-equipped than at Euro 2012.
“I don’t think Trap had a Plan B or C, whereas Martin O’Neill has steadied the ship and I think we’re playing more attractive football under him. We also have the younger lads coming through who look decent enough. In fact, I’m already looking forward to after this tournament because I think the future is bright.
“As for France, I think it’s great the way the fixtures have landed for us. We can’t afford to lose our first game but if we get off to a good start against Sweden, then we’ll definitely get out of the group. And the supporters will be the 12th man, as we always are — I reckon there’ll be 50,000 Paddies at the game in Paris.”
If Ireland can beat Germany, sky’s the limit
Kevin Keegan (Former England player and manager)
“I wouldn’t rule out the Republic of Ireland doing very, very well. They’re very experienced on the coaching side with Martin and Roy but, also, ask yourself: Who’s the best team in the Euros? The answer is Germany and Ireland beat them and drew with them. So they know they can get results against the big teams.
“I think there has been a levelling out in international football as there has been in the Premier League this season. Germany are not as dominant as they were. Some of Spain’s best players have gotten old. Italy wouldn’t frighten you; they’ve certainly had better teams than this one. Belgium are individually very strong but they haven’t proven it as a nation. So, the big teams look vulnerable.
“Can England finally go all the way? There are a lot of good young players — and players who are not young but new to international football — in the squad, and the great thing about players like that is they lack fear and even an awareness of what it’s all about. And that could work to their advantage. Or it could go the other way. They’re so inexperienced they could go to France and it could all collapse around them in half an hour.
“But I don’t think it will. And I know Roy Hodgson thinks the same because I was talking to him about this recently. And although he’s going with youngsters, I think he will — and I think he should — find a place for Rooney in the team.
“There’s a rawness about some of the other players that I like. Take Jamie Vardy and Deli Alli: There’s already a sense that they’re comfortable with the big stage. Harry Kane too. So, yes, it could really take off for England this time.
“And when you look around at some of the other finalists: Wales have got a decent side. You’ve got a decent side if you have everybody fit.
“And so you suddenly start to think: Like Leicester winning the Premier League, this could be the year of the underdog at the Euros.”
Trying to blank out Euro fever
Ronan O’Gara (Record Irish rugby points scorer)
“In a city as vast as Paris, we all live in our own little hamlets. The tournament kicks off here tomorrow night with the hosts meeting Romania. Twenty-four hours later Racing Metro meet Toulouse in the Top 14 play-offs. Guess which my blinkered vision is focused on?
“One or twice a week, there’s blaring sirens behind me in traffic en route to or from Plessey-Robinson, the training base of Racing, and we’ll be nudged into the margins to let the French squad and their entourage through. Then we go back to our lives.
“The tournament really only starts for me on Monday night in Saint Denis, when I’ll fetch up with 30,000 of the Irish hordes for our opener against Sweden. Until then, my office is oval.”
Ireland have feelgood factor that was missing in Poland
Kevin Kilbane (Former Ireland international)
“I don’t think we have anywhere near as tough a group as we did in 2012, and the form of some of our players has been great. Shane Long is in the best form of his career and he will cause problems for Italy, and a lot of problems for Sweden and Belgium. Jon Walters is a massive player or us. I think Weso (Wes Hoolahan) has not had a bad season and Robbie Brady has not had a bad season — albeit in struggling teams. Stephen Ward had a good end to the season at Burnley.
“I think we have a lot of players who have done very well this season and I think we’re in a better position than we were in four years ago. It’s down to the form of the players but down to Martin ( as well as he has built belief in the players. Prior to Martin taking over, under Trap, I think there was a little bit of fear there and there was negativity around the team that we were reading and hearing about constantly. I think there is a better feeling now and that is down to Martin and Roy.”
Memories of sneaky nights out away from Ger’s glare
Anthony Daly (All-Ireland winning Clare hurling captain)
“I’m old enough to witness all of Ireland’s forays to major football tournaments. My biggest regret is not heading off to one of them — ’94 was definitely the most tempting. I’d been working for five years, few quid in the bank I worked in, or at least the opportunity to borrow some, the Big Apple was tempting.
“Len Gaynor, though, was my gaffer with Clare and one Ger Loughnane was his sidekick. I’d have to settle for a sneaky night out. Brilliant times though, right through from Razor with the head to Kevin Sheedo (as we called him in Clarecastle) to Robbie at 8am in the morning in Murty Browne’s in 2002.
“It’s great to be back, the Stan and Trap eras were hard to take. Brian Kerr was unlucky. The feelgood factor is back though, I think.
“OK, we don’t have too many top four players but the spirit seems to be restored and the feeling of ‘we don’t fear anyone’ is coursing through our veins again.
“Martin is the new Jack. We won’t do a Greece but I think we can have a great tournament starting with a win over Sweden. Long to be our star but my dream would be for Keane to come off the bench and nail the winner (before he hangs them up) to put us through to the next phase.
“France to keep it at home but roll on the next few weeks. Rev it up and here we go.”
Strength of group has been exaggerated
Tony Cascarino (Former Ireland international)
“I view it that we’re in a much easier group than a lot of people are saying,” says Cascarino, one of the household names of the Jack Charlton era. “The Italian team is not the Italian team of 10 years ago. Sweden is all about Ibrahimovic and I think Belgium is very much a team of individuals even though they are the best side in our group. But I think we can get out of it, I really do. The challenge has been exaggerated in my opinion and, in a way, that suits because it makes it more of an achievement to progress.
“Remember back to the World Cup in 1990 — we had England and Holland in our group. England were a bloody good side at that time and Holland were one of the best in world. Okay, there was Egypt there too, and yeah we got out of it by draws but, bloody hell, that was a hell of a group. A lot of people seem to forget that.”
Ireland must go direct
John Caulfield (Cork City manager)
“I think our strength lies in going back to basics, the way it was when Martin O’Neill was at Wycombe, Leicester and Celtic: An in-your-face approach.
“Historically, it has been at the heart of a lot of the best Irish performances too. And I think it suits the quality and mentality of the players we have now. With Shane Long and Jon Walters, we have pace and strength in the air, so I think a direct approach, rather than a possession-based one, suits this team better. That said, I still think there has to be a place for Wes Hoolahan in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 system. He’s a clever player and with him in the team we definitely look better.
“But that doesn’t mean we should try to play out from the back: That’s not our strength. A more up and at ’em style is the way to confront the other teams in our group. I don’t think they’ll like us playing that way.
“Will it be enough to get us out of the group? The beauty of it is that you’re looking for just one win. And I think that’s more likely in the Sweden or Italy game: I wouldn’t be so sure about getting it against Belgium.”
I fear a group stage exit
Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan (Middleweight boxer)
“I think they’ll get knocked out at the group stage, to be honest,” says the former WBO intercontinental middleweight champion.”I hope they don’t, obviously, but I’m not too optimistic. I suppose they’re capable of anything after beating Germany and they’re capable of pulling big results off, but when we get to the big tournaments I’m not sure if we can do as well.
“I was at the Belarus game, and I know the whole squad wasn’t out and Shane Long did very well when he came on, but I wasn’t too impressed at all. I’d have to side with my fellow Corkman, Roy Keane, on reviewing that one.
“The Sweden match is probably our best chance of getting three points if we can keep Ibrahimovic at bay. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility — they kept Messi under wraps in the first international at the Aviva and they kept Thomas Muller quiet when they beat Germany. It’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t be putting too much money on them.
“I’m glad Vincent Kompany won’t be playing for Belgium, I think he’s a great player, it’s good for us he’s not playing, but Eden Hazard was coming into great form for Chelsea towards the end of the season. That’s good timing for Belgium and Hazard’s pretty much impossible to deal with when he’s in-for. Lukaku is another dangerous one.
“Belgium will be strong and with the likes of Fellaini they have a big physical side so I’m not too optimistic, I think that game will be our most difficult. If we can beat Sweden and get a point out of the Belgium game, it’d be amazing.
“I’d love to get over to it, I’d say it’ll be brilliant, but unfortunately I won’t be able to because I’m training and I’m due to have a big fight in the States in July.”
Cramming in the study ahead of first big finals
Dave McIntyre (TV3 commentator)
One for the scrap book. @TV3SportIreland pic.twitter.com/SEk97N5vdo— David McIntyre (@DaveMcIntyreIRL) May 18, 2016
“It’s my first major finals as a commentator. The GAA commentaries have kept me at home other summers so I haven’t even gone as a reporter. So I’m really looking forward to it. The work doesn’t really change from other commentaries, four of five hours of research for a game. But it’s just they are coming thick and fast.
“My first game for TV3 is Spain v Czech Republic on Monday, and between the GAA as well, I think it’s five commentaries in eight days. So it’s just about using every 20 minutes you can find, opening the laptop and chipping away. And hopefully when I go through the turnstiles, there’s enough done.
“I won’t have the privilege of doing the Ireland games. It’s very difficult to get your hopes up too high. I think we were all stung by what happened in 2012. But I think the trajectory is much more positive this time. We didn’t beat a big team in qualification last time and I think that can give the players the belief that if the dice rolls your way, you can beat anyone.
“I don’t think we should fear any of the teams we face. Italy are absolutely decimated with injuries.
“Belgium are the standout but you would hope qualification won’t necessarily come down to that game. The third-place qualifiers gives us a brilliant chance. So I’ve far more positive, albeit still a little stung by last time.”
Subdued build-up suggests lack of true belief
Niamh Briggs (Irish women’s rugby captain)
“There’s been a rather subdued build-up to what’s a major championship. Maybe the scars from 2012 are still fresh, or maybe we don’t want to believe that we finally have a group of players and a management capable of causing a few upsets?
“While the group is difficult, it’s nowhere near as bad as 2012, and I think that O’Neill and his squad will be eager to put Irish soccer back on the road to its glory days.
“I’m a huge fan of O’Neill and as a lifelong supporter of Roy Keane I can’t help but be excited about the next few weeks.
“I’m also delighted to see two Waterford locals make the squad in John O’Shea and Daryl Murphy.
“O’Shea’s experience at the back will be huge especially if Randolph or Westwood start in goal, and I’d love to see Daryl turn his excellent club form into goals on the international stage.
“Shane Long has had the season of his life and could really explode onto the world stage. His ability to run off defenders can cause the opposition huge problems whilst creating space for the likes of Hoolahan and McCarthy.
“A fit Jon Walters is going to be key to Ireland getting results though. He’s a huge workhorse and is willing to chase everything and that not only endears himself to the supporters but it provides a huge lift to the players on the pitch.
“Sweden, Belgium and Italy all provide difficulties in their own right, but they shouldn’t be feared, and with a huge Irish contingent making the trip over to France, I’ve no doubt this squad can give us plenty to cheer!”
Players must have the courage to be part of a big journey
Niall Quinn (Former Ireland international)
“My advice to the Irish players? Believe!” says the Italia ‘90 goal hero. “Believe there is a winning goal in a big match for you. Have the courage and commitment to believe that people will look back on these Euros and see you as a person who played a big part in a big journey.
“I think that spirit is in the Irish team and that is what gives me great hope. The win against Germany was up there in the top three or four nights in Irish football and what you glean from that over in France, if they can kick on, is that we have a decent chance of qualifying from the group.”
Sweden perfect first opponents for Irish
Emmanuel Petit (Former France international)
“I think it will be difficult for Ireland because, obviously, they are in this hard group but I think they have a chance to do a surprise,” says the ex-Arsenal midfielder who won World Cup and European Championship honours with the host nation.
“The gap between the biggest countries in football is not that big anymore, so if Ireland play as a group and with fighting spirit and take their chance when it comes on the pitch, they can do something.
“All the time in tournaments — World Cup, Europeans — you always have a surprise team. The fact that the first game for Ireland is against Sweden, for me it is the perfect occasion to start very well in the competition.
“Of course, Ibra is special. He can do things on the pitch that no one else can do. He’s a great player but if the Irish defenders can control him, then you control most of the Swedish threat going forward and, as well, the spirit of the team. If you let him play the way he wants to play and it’s very easy for him because he can do whatever he wants. You have to put pressure on him from the first minute until the end. There’s no way you can leave him because sometimes he can work like a shadow on the pitch and then, in 10 seconds, he turns the game in the right way. Just be focused on him all of the time. If you control Ibrahimovic then, as I said, you control the spirit of the team.
“France’s chances? The record for the last few months is good but in terms of the freshness in the team, we’ve got big, big questions surrounding important players, in terms of the physical and the spirit. I do think we have one of the easiest groups. When they did the draw, we were surprised by the teams we are going to play against. But I’m not sure if it’s a chance for us because every time we play against a smaller country we are struggling. Every time we play against big names we want to prove that we are better than them, and we play well. I think the first game (v Romania) is very important. That will determine the rest of the group.”
The schedule is Ireland’s best friend
Jason McAteer (Former Ireland international)
Spent the day with this legend Mr Mick Bryne former Irish soccer Physio and part time guardian angel X pic.twitter.com/HyJhRc23jA— Jason Mcateer (@MCATEER4) April 26, 2016
“It’s a tough group but what plays into Ireland’s hands is the fact that they’ve got Sweden first,” says the man whose goal famously beat Holland at Lansdowne Road in 2001. “I’ve got Belgium as an outside favourite to win the competition, although I think Kompany (being injured) might be a deciding factor. But they’ve got some big, big names and, if they click, they could be the outside favourites. Italy are always strong in a major competition. They have gone through a transitional period but they still went through the qualifiers unbeaten. They are going to be tough. Obviously Sweden have Ibrahimovic — if he’s on fire and up for it. The first game of the competition, there’s always a bit of razzmatazz around that one, but if we can keep him quiet we’ll have an opportunity to win that game. That would set us up nicely.”
We must tap into post-Germany buzz
Kylie Murphy (Wexford Youths captain)
Wexford Youth WFC captain Kylie Murphy with the trophy after the Continental Tyres Women's National League Replay! pic.twitter.com/wUHKqPkHXX— Sportsfile (@sportsfile) May 22, 2016
“I think we should believe that the lads will do great at the Euros,” says Murphy, who captained Youths to the WNL and WFAI Cup titles.
“I think a lot of people didn’t think we would qualify from the group stages. I know the result against Belarus wasn’t what we all wanted in the last friendly before the Euros, but a lot of our starters were on the bench that day.
“We need to remind ourselves we beat Germany in October of last year. That feeling the whole county got when Shane Long buried the football in the back of the net in the Aviva, that feeling made us all believe the team could do something. Beating the world champions was unbelievable for the team, and for the country.
“We have some great players and once we get a result in the first game against Sweden, it will not only have the team buzzing but the whole county as well! Obviously we all know they have a great centre-forward in Ibrahimovic. He is a world-class striker, but I do feel that defensively the team is very strong.”
Divided Euro loyalties for Ireland’s hockey squad
Ronan Gormley (Ireland hockey player)
“To get through the qualifying campaign against a decent Scottish team and then the play-offs was fantastic. The squad may lack some of the marquee names of previous years but there seems to be a collective strength there and a good fit with Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane at the helm.
“Progressing from the group will be tough, but we are capable of beating Sweden and have beaten Italy on the highest stage in the past so never say never.
“I have been pretty selfish in the last few weeks in terms of focusing on my own training with the Irish men’s hockey team as we prepare for the Olympic Games in Rio so some of the build-up to the Euros has passed me by.
“Having said that, once the tournament starts I will be watching as much as possible and the fact that Northern Ireland is also playing means our squad – hockey is an all-Ireland sport – has two teams to follow.
“I am currently based in Germany and only caught the end of the 1-0 win last October as I was training with my club team in Dusseldorf.
“I was straight onto the Whatsapp group after the match for sure; You have to enjoy those moments when they come!
“I remember watching the 1-1 draw with Germany in 2002 with some school mates in Churchtown. After Robbie’s equaliser, we ran outside jumping all over the place in celebration — pretty similar to the #makehistory ad from Three for this year’s tournament. Hopefully, there are more of those moments in France – and Rio – this summer!”
Key to big tournament performance is keeping it simple
John Mooney (Former Ireland cricketer)
“I have no worries about the younger Ireland players who are appearing in their first major championships, like Cyrus Christie and Shane Duffy,” says Mooney, who represented Ireland in three ICC Cricket World Cups and now runs fitness training courses in Donabate with his company Healthier Ireland.
“As professional footballers, they will be well drilled and well used to the hotel, bus, ground routine.
“They will also have played in big games before, even if they weren’t in major tournaments.
“I always tried to keep things simple at World Cups by relating it back to comfortable situations, remembering my big performances in club cricket and trying to bring that form into international matches.
“Christie started the qualifying game against Germany in Dublin, and so he can draw on that and remember that he has put it up to the best in the world and proved himself well capable.
“I can see us getting a win or a couple of draws to get us out of the group. We have a good manager, the type we have always wanted, a good squad and the experience of Robbie Keane around the camp.
“But we need a strong and stubborn defence to set us apart – if we get through the three group games conceding only one or two goals, that could be enough to see us through, as I expect us to nick a few goals.
“Anything is possible as long as we come out of the first game against Sweden without a defeat. We can’t have a repeat of our first match of Euro 2012.
“We were dead and buried against Croatia after 50 minutes, and that was the end of the tournament for us almost straight away.”
The Ireland vibes are very positive
Cora Staunton (Mayo ladies footballer)
“I think Ireland can do quite well at the Euros and that they can get out of the group stages and qualify for the last 16. Bar the last warm-up games against Belarus, they’ve been playing well and have shown a lot of promise in friendlies against Netherlands and Slovakia.
“Some of the Irish players are playing their best football at the moment and the best example is Shane Long who had a great finish to the season with Southampton. I think he and Jon Walters will cause plenty of problems for the Italian, Belgium and Swedish defences, and I can see us getting goals against these teams.
“A lot will come down to how our defence and midfield unit can deal with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Graziano Pelle, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
“Both Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have done a great job with this squad and have got the best out of the likes of Robbie Brady, Stephen Ward and Wes Hoolahan. From reading the newspapers and watching TV there seems to be a lot of positive vibes coming from the camp and Ireland seem well prepared.”
Ireland’s ballers tune up for their own Euros
Kyle Hosford (Ireland and C&S UCC Demons point guard)
“I’d actually be more confident heading into this one that I was about Euro 2012. I’m not sure what team Martin and Roy are going pick but we can do some damage if they get it right. The likes of Shane Long has a taste for it after scoring against Germany so he’ll want to be in the spotlight again. I liked Wes Hoolahan when he came off the bench against Belarus. He created a bit more and should get some freedom to set things up his way.
“Sweden would be in the same bracket as us so I can’t see why we can’t beat them at tournament level. Zlatan is a threat though. The whole defence are going to have to step up because he can play in front of the centre backs and he’s dangerous in the air so the full-backs are going to have to cut off his supply.
“It’s a good thing that we’re playing them first, because if you can get a result the confidence will go from there. You’ll enjoy training and you won’t be so down-hearted because you know you’re playing for something.
“Belgium are the hot team coming up but they haven’t done anything at tournament level yet. If they start clicking it can mean trouble for us, but hopefully it’s outside the group stages.
“We’ll actually be training for our own European Championships on the day of the Belgium game.
“We’re going to Moldova for the 28th of June and the Euros are a big motivation for us in the build-up. It helps you remember why you’re working hard with your own training.”
Play our creative players and we’ve got a chance
John Giles (RTÉ football analyst)
“That’s a huge difference between now and four years ago. Four years ago, there were only 16 teams in the Championship, now there’s 24, so the quality has to be diluted, it has to be.
“We finished in third place in qualifying so four years ago we wouldn’t have qualified, Sweden wouldn’t have qualified. So, we’re in a group with two teams who qualified from third place.
“Last time out we had Croatia, Spain and Italy — it couldn’t have been harder. So just going by the teams that have qualified, we should have a better chance.
“There was a certain optimism last time out even, it will always come from the players and team, that’s the way it has to be, you can’t be saying ‘we’ve no chance’.
“I think the general feeling going into things four years ago, though, was not so great — on the outside.
“Croatia were a top team, Spain were the best around, and Italy were no mugs.
“The optimism is more genuine this time, but we have to do our jobs.
“I think Trap said from the start ‘this is what we’ll do’ and he made his mind up. We got there and didn’t do very well, but I think Martin is much more open, he’s not as rigid.
“But again, we have to play well, go out and do our jobs, nobody’s going to give it to us. You have to do your own stuff and be up for it.
“I think there’s too much made of formations, but you need to have players who can mix it — lose the ball, win the ball, use the ball. I think Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady are our two best creative players, so I hope they start. Glenn Whelan is not creative, James McCarthy is not creative, and teams that achieve anything usually have creative players in there.”
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