Sunday 18 March 2018

Steven Reid: We're at the end of the road but this feels like the start of a new Ireland era

Shane Duffy fouls Antoine Griezmann which led to the Ireland defender being sent off. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Duffy fouls Antoine Griezmann which led to the Ireland defender being sent off. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Steven Reid

Steven Reid

It's the end of the road but unlike four years ago, Ireland bow out with their heads held high and with a renewed sense of confidence going forward.

Going into this tournament it was always going to be crucial to exorcise some of the demons from what happened in Poland and although a few of the more-experienced lads will probably call it a day, the younger generation have proved that they are more than capable of carrying the mantle.

To get out of the group was an excellent achievement and we gave it everything against France. The players can be happy with what they achieved. They've done themselves and their country proud.

Coming away from Poland four years ago, everything was really flat and people were wondering what direction we were going to go in. No such issues this time.

Although the campaign ends here for us, this really does feel like the start of a new era. Seamus Coleman has taken the captain's armband for the last two games and we've seen the likes of Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Darren Randolph enhance their reputations.

For me, Robbie has been our standout performer by far. In Saturday's column, I wondered how he could ever replicate the emotional high of the goal against Italy but he went some way to doing it yesterday.

I've already heard Robbie linked with a move to a couple of different Premier League clubs and there's no doubt that he should be playing at that level and I think Jeff falls into that category as well.

Looking at Randolph's form, it wouldn't surprise me to see him take over as West Ham's first choice goalkeeper. He never puts a foot wrong.

Shay Given, Robbie Keane and John O'Shea are probably at the end of their international careers and if they do call time, I'm confident that the changing of the guard will be a smooth process.

The three lads are first class and great professionals. They always have been. The way Shay has looked after his body is seriously impressive. They've all had a massive impact on this team, even behind the scenes. It was the same when I played with them.

We knew before the game that France had more quality than us and for me, that was the main difference yesterday. We were excellent in the first half but fatigue started to creep in and France's extra three days of rest stood to them.

I've mentioned it before but Ireland are at their most effective when they take the game to the opposition and we saw that again in the first half.

Our goal came from Stephen Ward not backing off. He's on the front foot and winning the ball ahead of Antoine Griezmann. We got forward well and weren't afraid to get bodies in the box and it paid off.

Shane Long did what he does best in winning the penalty and we really couldn't have asked for a better start. France were rattled and you could see that in their body language as well as the way the crowd were quietened.

They never looked a threat. Giroud was completely isolated up front and Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy were dealing with him quite well.

It wasn't as if we sat back after that goal either. We actually looked like we could build on our lead and we had a couple of chances to do so but unfortunately we just couldn't take them.

We continued to press them for the rest of the half and I think that's the biggest thing we've learned from this tournament.

We saw it against Italy and in the first half against France that the top nations struggle to deal with our intensity and we have to carry that mentality forward into the World Cup qualifying campaign.

There is so much confidence to take from the last few weeks and that can only bode well for future success.

Bringing Kingsley Coman on at half-time changed the game. Ireland obviously tired but his extra pace caused our defence all sorts of problems and it really freed up Griezmann and unfortunately we found out first hand how devastating he can be in front of goal.

He was getting into areas between the midfield and the back four where we didn't really know how to deal with him. That's where he got his first goal from.

It was a master stroke by Didier Deschamps and he deserves credit for making the substitution but Martin O'Neill will be disappointed with the two centre-backs going for the same ball in the build-up to the second goal.

After we conceded the equaliser, I'm thinking: "OK, we just need to settle down here and try and keep the ball." We were really under the cosh in that 15-minute spell and had we been able to see it out at 1-1, the outcome might have been different.

We never really got into our stride in the second half and when we went down to 10 men, it was always going to be a huge ask, and so it proved.

That's when the mental and physical fatigue sets in and ultimately when it happens, it's that extra bit of quality, especially when you're in possession, that makes all the difference. They had more of that quality than we did and sometimes you just have to put your hands up and admit that.

But from our point of view, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. When we speak about Irish teams, so often words like character and determination are thrown about but the actual quality of our football has been hugely pleasing.

A lot of people questioned whether or not we could compete in such a tough group and those doubters have been proved wrong.

The Belgium game apart, it's been a real pleasure to watch us play in this tournament and we haven't said that enough over the years.

It feels like we're back now and when the dust settles, the players will realise that as the focus switches to September when the World Cup qualifying campaign begins.

Irish Independent

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