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O'Neill thanks fans for a remarkable journey to France

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Ireland fans are pictured in full voice during the Euro 2016 victory over Italy in Lille last June

Ireland fans are pictured in full voice during the Euro 2016 victory over Italy in Lille last June

Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has thanked the fans for the effort they've made in supporting the Boys in Green

Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has thanked the fans for the effort they've made in supporting the Boys in Green

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Ireland fans are pictured in full voice during the Euro 2016 victory over Italy in Lille last June

It's a rare thing for any manager to feel completely secure during two consecutive Christmases but Martin O'Neill is bucking the trend.

The Ireland boss had a case of the festive glums in 2014, coming off the back of a defeat by Scotland in Parkhead.

But success against Bosnia in the Euro 2016 play-off a year later lifted spirits to the sky. He soared again in France in June and after establishing a tasty qualifying position for Russia 18, why wouldn't he be happy?

In his end of year message on FAI TV, O'Neill places the fans front and central in his review of last 12 months.

"Sometimes I don't think they even realise how important they've been in games. To see the fruits of all of that out in France was a delight for all of us," he said. "They'll support the side because I think they feel that whatever the team lacks in certain aspects, effort is not one of those things," said O'Neill.

"That's never enough to win a football game, you need more, we know this ourselves. I could get you a load of boys with loads of effort but no ability.

"We've got some ability and were giving everything. I think the supporters actually enjoy watching the side and long may that last.

"If they enjoy it they will come and if they think there is some sort of destination at the end of it all, if they feel as if we might get there then that's all the more pleasing. The fans played as big a part as anyone in 2016."

O'Neill has no reason to lay it on thick so these sentiments are entirely genuine. He has the high ground and Ireland's remarkable fans should feel a nice buzz of pride reading those words.

"In any interview I've ever done at club level or international level, whenever anyone asks what sort of support you want, I always feel as if I'm trying to reach out to them. I'm not," he said. "Supporters will find their own voice. What I've been absolutely delighted with, is that regardless of some of the criticism we have received either winning or losing, and we haven't lost that many, the crowd have been absolutely fantastic," he added.

O'Neill awards his gong for the best moment of the year to Robbie Brady for his epic goal against Italy and James McClean gets a pat on the back for the progress he has made.

"It would be hard to beat Brady's header. Really hard to beat that. There was a finality in that the goal meant so much. It meant we had qualified, a vindication of everything which had taken place before that," he said.

"It put aside the performance against Belgium a few days earlier and meant we had something to look forward to against France. All in that moment.

"McClean has taken on the mantle Jon Walters had for us during the qualification. His goals have been very, very important.

"You think of the goal against Moldova at a very important stage in the game, 1-1 in the match. He came up with that one and his goal in Austria was just fantastic.

"James feels he belongs and that's the most important part. He knows now he's an important part of the team and he's become big in these qualification games so far."

McClean is a perfect reflection of the work ethic and never-say-die attitude which epitomises O'Neill's Ireland.

"We do have resilience in the team. The number of goals we have scored late on in matches in the last couple of years kind of prove it that we keep going to the end," he said.

"It's up to me to make sure the environment is as lively and as vibrant as it can possibly be in the build-up to these matches so that these lads can perform to their maximum."


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