Friday 30 September 2016

‘Wes was struggling’ - Martin O’Neill explains removal of Ireland’s influential goalscorer

Published 13/06/2016 | 20:05

Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan and Robert Brady after the final whistle during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de France, Paris. John Walton/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan and Robert Brady after the final whistle during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de France, Paris. John Walton/PA Wire

A visibly disappointed Martin O’Neill regretted Ireland’s missed chances but heaped praise on his players following their strong performance in the Boys in Green’s Euro 2016 opener.

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Despite dominating for long periods at the Stade de France, the Irish players will regret only taking a point after Sweden held them to a 1-1 draw.

A gorgeous finish from Wes Hoolahan was cancelled out by a Ciaran Clark own goal but Ireland had a string of opportunities – particularly in the first half – to add to their tally, something that O’Neill mentioned in his post-match interview on RTE.

“We were fantastic, really fantastic,” the Ireland boss said.

“ I don’t know how we didn’t come in maybe even three in front. It was really a great effort by the team but it was more than a great effort. Effort isn’t something that we are lacking but the play today was really great.”

O’Neill was then asked whether the team may go on to regret dropping two points after creating so many good chances.

“Of course,” he said.

“It is not as if we didn’t create any chances. The game should probably have been beyond Sweden at half time but that is the nature of football.

“There is real disappointment in the dressing room that we haven’t taken all three points. We deserved them, we definitely deserved them. Three would have been better than one but nevertheless a performance to be delighted with.”

One slightly eyebrow raising tactical decision from O’Neill was the removal of goal-scorer Hoolahan for Robbie Keane. However, the Ireland manager confirmed that the midfielder was carrying a knock – which the player said was a calf injury – while Jon Walters’ achilles injury flared up once again, making him a doubt for the Belgium game on Saturday.

“Wes was struggling,” O’Neill said.

“He hasn’t played much football and he just figured over to the bench. Jon Walters was struggling as well.”

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