Thursday 18 January 2018

'It reminded me of big European nights at Celtic' - Martin O'Neill hails togetherness of Ireland team

Martin O'Neill celebrates beating Juventus in 2001 and (right) after beating Italy last night
Martin O'Neill celebrates beating Juventus in 2001 and (right) after beating Italy last night
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Martin O’Neill has compared last night’s euphoric victory over Italy to big European nights during his time at Celtic.

O’Neill enjoyed special moments at Parkhead including a 4-3 victory over Juventus in the Champions League in 2001 while he also guided the Bhoys to the UEFA Cup final against Porto in 2003.

Ireland’s 1-0 win over the Italians booked a place in the last 16 of Euro 2016 and the scenes in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy stadium will be forever etched in the memories of Ireland fans.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk today, O’Neill praised the spirit and togetherness of his Ireland players who will now face host nation France in the last 16 in Lyon on Sunday.  

“It was a showing of togetherness that I hadn't seen in a very long time, maybe since my European nights at Celtic,” said O’Neill.

“We started strongly against Sweden and we didn't do ourselves justice against Belgium. If that had been our last game we would have exited in a meek fashion but I felt we had one big performance left in us.

“Without being too sycophantic, the fans who travelled there, they were there in great numbers. It seemed they didn't have the energy against Belgium but they were ready for last night. It wasn't just a ferocious effort. They got the ball down and played and surpassed Italy in that regard.

“I think it [the roof closed] added to the atmosphere. It was hot and sticky but it definitely made the noise levels even more deafening.”

O’Neill made four big changes to last night’s staring 11 and the big question now is will he change the team again on Sunday. Jon Walters has not featured since the Sweden and O’Neill suggested that the Stoke City striker may be fit to play some role on Sunday.

“A couple of days and you would never know with Jon Walters. He hasn't featured since the Sweden game and it is a pity because he was our talisman during qualification.”

With Ireland fans making headlines all over the world for their charm, humour and wit in France, O’Neill revealed that the team and supporters both feed off each other.

“I'm not a big Youtube man but to watch some of the scenes with our fans. I think we have been forgiven for the Belgium game. We fed off each other.”

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