Seamus Coleman: ‘A bit further would have been nice’

Yet again it was the skipper with the declaration of intent.

Four days earlier Seamus Coleman, captaining his country for the first time, waded in on Mattia De Sciglio within seconds of the first whistle with a tackle that left the Italian sniffing turf and snivelling for justice.

It was a more subtle flag-planting yesterday.

Receiving the kick-off, the Everton full-back belied expectations in neglecting to locate Daryl Murphy’s head, sold Olivier Giroud a dummy and initiated a passing move that stated an approach beyond mere muscle and graft.

Not long after and Robbie Brady had made it 1-0.

An encouraging start.

“A perfect start,” Coleman reflected afterwards. “It couldn’t have gone much better. We wanted to play ball a little bit more than we had been doing and we did do that and got the early goal.”

Zip through to the dying minutes and Ireland’s last half-chance wasn’t so much manufactured as sculpted, with Jonathan Walters flicking on a Wes Hoolahan ball for Shane Long whose first touch almost sent Robbie Brady through.

There was less of that finesse than wished for, or required, in the 89 minutes between those two snapshots, but the sight of an Irish team even attempting such moves shouldn’t be taken for granted after too many years of grunt and too little guile.

The lactic acid coursing through tired Irish limbs made both a chore.

Make no mistake, the three fewer days afforded to Martin O’Neill’s squad in the run-up to this match took a debilitating toll on players whose vigour waned after the interval when temperatures hovered around 22 degrees.

“We were out on our feet a bit towards the end,” said Coleman. “There was a quick turnaround between the two games and France had a bit longer to get their legs ready so it probably was a factor in the end. I thought it was there for us.”

It was clear as day. The physical and mental toll of Lille, where they bubbled and fizzed amid the baking heat of an enclosed stadium, became all too apparent, but the commitment to create and craft was always there.

This is the point.

It is just over a year since the 1-1 draw with Scotland in Dublin that seemed to pull the curtains down on this European campaign and one which even raised the question as to whether O’Neill would leave the stage.

It seemed then like another step further into the abyss.

For a few years there the Irish team and its public had lost touch. It wasn’t so much a falling out as much as a gradual withdrawal of affection by a country that didn’t see enough in their representatives to continue the love affair.

It reached its nadir under Giovanni Trapattoni, whose commitment to function withstood any all types of form, but attendances remained low at the Aviva through much of O’Neill’s reign. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

Poland four years ago showed us that the fires can be rekindled among the brethren come a major tournament but the connection between pitch and punters looked stronger than ever yesterday after the final whistle. Players and fans clapping one another in such circumstances is nothing new, but there was something more soulful and significant as the squad and staff stood silently and listened to one more rendition of the ‘Fields of Athenry’

It was an emotional and symbolic act with which to end this campaign, and all the more so for those among the older brigade who will have known, or at least suspected, that this was their last time to acclaim the support in such a way.

“The bond between the fans and the players is something special,” said Coleman. “Our fans are immense and we are so proud of them, as I’m sure they are to us. It means a lot to us, not just the fans who were at this game but the others against as well.

“They’ve all played a big part over here and all the fans sitting back home watching the games as well. There is that bond and it would have been nice if we could have just gone a bit further.”

The fruits of all those should be apparent come the next campaign.

For now, it may seem appropriate that a team with the oldest squad in the tournament should exit it out on their feet, but age wasn’t a factor here, not with a starting eleven whose average age was just 27.3.

Only two of the starters in Lyon were aged 30 or over and Richard Keogh isn’t going anywhere soon given he only left his twenties behind in the last year. The lack of Irish-born talent remains a concern but there is reason to hope come September.

“I’m sure you’ve seen a few good young lads comes through, lads like Jeff, Robbie, James, Shane Duffy as well,” said the captain. “They played a big part in this tournament. The future is bright in terms of them.”

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