Friday 9 December 2016

Daniel McDonnell: No time to dwell on famous win for Ireland's tired heroes

O'Neill puts focus on getting minds and bodies right for Lyon

Published 24/06/2016 | 02:30

O’Neill wants to bring the group to the next destination so they can get a good night’s rest in ahead of the pre-match training session. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
O’Neill wants to bring the group to the next destination so they can get a good night’s rest in ahead of the pre-match training session. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The window for basking in the afterglow of a historic victory is over.

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After a "raucous" bus journey back to Versailles following the heroic win over Italy, Martin O'Neill gave his players yesterday off to recharge the batteries and catch up with their families.

A composite image of fans from each of the 16 teams who have qualified for the knockout stages if Euro 2016. Photo: File photo/Getty Images
A composite image of fans from each of the 16 teams who have qualified for the knockout stages if Euro 2016. Photo: File photo/Getty Images

Later today, they will be on their travels again with just 48 hours until a showdown with France that will decide if there's more to run in their Euro 2016 adventure.

It's a remarkably quick turnaround, an unfair one according to O'Neill given that the hosts finished their group on Sunday and will arrive in Lyon with a three-day head start in terms of recovery and refocusing on the round of 16 encounter.

"It does seem a disproportionate amount of time," said O'Neill yesterday, "I understand as the host nation you should get some particular favours.

Same

"If the competition was in Ireland, I would do exactly the same. I would have the teams that play Ireland play every single night. We wouldn't have to play for a year."

The Derryman smiled. He was in good form throughout an afternoon press conference at Ireland's media base in Versailles that could have been a very different type of event if Robbie Brady hadn't popped up at the Stade Pierre Mauroy to head his way into history.

The FAI had to prepare for every eventuality before Lille and provisional plans were in place for a press briefing before the flight to Ireland that would have brought down the curtain on O'Neill's tournament.

Instead, the stay in Versailles is extended and Ireland are big news. French TV crews turned up to ask about Thierry Henry, revenge and the other angles heading into the highlight of their sporting weekend. This is box office.

O'Neill wants to bring the group to the next destination so they can get a good night's rest in ahead of the pre-match training session at the Stade de Lyon tomorrow.

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The challenge is to ensure that they are capable of delivering another high-tempo display against one of the pre-tournament favourites.

"We will have to replicate that performance," stressed O'Neill. "We'll have to produce energy when we don't have the ball but we have to go and produce the type of football that we played last night. And we have to replicate it in spades. And I think we can. The energy is down at the moment but I think they realise they just have to get up for it and go again."

After all, they don't want to waste the opportunity which they fought hard to secure.

"I genuinely don't think - I don't want to make a big thing of this - that we were ready to go home," O'Neill continued.

"We were kind of feeling our way and we certainly did not want to go home having left maybe the Belgium game as suggesting that's all that we could do. I just felt that there was something (else) left in the team and they kept it going."

Freshening up the team was the key and his trust in youth was vindicated.

O'Neill went through the positives: the continued emergence of Brady and Jeff Hendrick; the impressive captaincy of Seamus Coleman; the solid contributions from James McCarthy and Shane Duffy, who both had question marks hanging over them for contrasting reasons.

"You wouldn't have believed that was Shane's competitive debut," enthused O'Neill. "He was immense. And I thought the boy beside him, (Richard) Keogh, was excellent too.

"James (McCarthy) 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, so we didn't play well (against Belgium) and we had to turn that around.

"I never viewed it (picking McCarthy) as a vote of confidence but that will have given him a huge boost, to play as well as he did."

Marco Tardelli's name did come up in discussion again, with the Irish camp enjoying silencing the former assistant after his scathing comments about their approach to the game.

O'Neill was happier to speak to length about the current No 2, Roy Keane, who he embraced after the final whistle before Gianluigi Buffon interrupted to congratulate them.

On Monday, Keane ran through the buzzwords - courage, balls and bravery - to outline the kind of display that was necessary.

"He doesn't always have to be bawling around and thinking he has to live up to an image," cautioned O'Neill.

Self-effacing

"There's loads of times when it's quite the opposite and he's rather self-effacing. He's been a good influence one way or the other and it's the sort of thing I thought he would bring to it when I brought him on board."

His words will have a part in rallying the troops ahead of a tie where they will be massive underdogs.

O'Neill touched on the options at France's disposal to emphasise the task. "France have some individual talent that is mesmerising," he said. "Very, very good players. The little lad (N'Golo) Kante has had a sensational season for Leicester City. (Paul) Pogba is a fantastic player.

"I don't know the ins and outs of what they'll do with the team, but they are playing in front of the nation, the home crowd, they will have the vast majority of the tickets, so it will be a tough afternoon but we're ready for it."

O'Neill's English-based squad will be familiar with a good number of he likely opinions. Dimitri Payet has shone on this stage, while Olivier Giroud is set to be selected up front. Bacary Sagna, Patrice Evra and Laurent Koscielny could form three-quarters of the defence.

Ireland will enter the fray with players who have never sampled regular Premier League football. How can they be convinced they are capable of prevailing?

"The biggest thing is to make them feel they belong," said O'Neill. "You have to try and get into their heads and feel they actually belong there for at least that game."

Lille has laid the template.

Martin O'Neill on:

"Seamus Coleman is an impressive young man. He's very quiet off the field but he's embraced the captaincy, took it in his stride and I thought he was a captain in everything that he did. Some of the players have mentioned that he was inspirational in his little speech. He's galvanised the players, he's been really up for this after missing out four years ago."

The joy of victory

"I don't think we wanted to go home feeling, 'Yeah, great performance but should have had a penalty and didn't do. Wes should have scored, didn't do'. And in two days time it's forgotten. We've come up big at the end of the game and deservedly so, so to have qualified and gone through is immense in that sense."

Jeff Hendrick's Championship status

"I've always liked him. When I got the job, I knew a wee bit about young Brady. I wouldn't have known a great deal about 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. He's taken on responsibility that he's been given in the side. Unquestionably (he can play at highest level)."

Changing the team

"I felt that against Belgium - for some reason or other - we were off the pace of the game and there's maybe a thought that a third game in nine days for some of the older players might present a problem. What we needed to do was re-energise the team and bring in players who'd been waiting for a few weeks to play."

Dropping John O'Shea

"I think every one of the 23 would be disappointed if they weren't in the starting line-up. 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."

Atmosphere In Lille

"In many ways, the evening last night was reminiscent of great European nights at Celtic, it really was. We were talking about it earlier, a great evening against Juventus some years ago where the place was rocking and we followed it up with a couple of great nights, one against Liverpool where the atmosphere was incredible. That's what it felt like. It was a real memorable evening. In terms of where it ranks, let us see."

Irish Independent

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