‘There's a lot of frustration. Lads are down and hurt’ – Nathan Collins wants to turn defeat into positive for Euro campaign

27 March 2023; Nathan Collins of Republic of Ireland after the UEFA EURO 2024 Championship Qualifier match between Republic of Ireland and France at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Seán O'Connor

Ireland defender Nathan Collins believes his side got their tactics ‘spot-on’ against France, but says they are hurt and frustrated after their opening Euro 2024 qualifier ended in defeat.

The hosts limited Les Bleus to few clear-cut chances in front of a sold-out Aviva Stadium, and could have earned a crucial point but for Mike Maignan’s world-class late save to deny Collins’ header.

The Wolves centre-back praised his side’s display and says it is one they can be proud of with Greece and Gibraltar up next in June.

“I think it’s massive, it gives us a lot of belief that we can play and cause problems at that level,” said Collins, after his 11th successive start for his country.

“There's a lot of frustration. Lads are down and hurt. We put so much into that. The coaches are hurting. Tactically I think we got it spot-on. It was so frustrating but dust ourselves down and go again in three months' time.”

“I thought I’d done everything,” said Collins of his late chance to equalise, before praising the 50,000-strong crowd.

“I got as high as I could, got power behind it, but it’s an unbelievable save. It is what it is. That’s the difference at the top level. It’s so frustrating and I’m heartbroken for the lads as well.

“The crowd was unbelievable. It was one of the best, most passionate things I’ve ever seen in my life. It drove me forward so much. I thought we did deserve it, we caused them so many problems and I thought they were struggling to deal with at times, but that’s the quality of them, they kept a clean sheet and we didn’t.

“We’ve set the standard ourselves now. It’s on us, nobody else, only us. Not the manager, not the coaches, it’s the level we set and we’ve got to keep driving that."

The 21-year-old insists that while Ireland are able to raise their game against the bigger nations, they must still retain the same levels when faced with smaller nations.

“I think you have seen it so many times against the big teams, we put on performances and people are a bit shocked how good we do and how we hurt teams so much. But again, it is not just the big teams we need to perform against. We have to have that standard against the so-called ‘smaller nations’.”

Despite a battling display, Stephen Kenny’s side fell to the 1-0 defeat as Benjamin Pavard’s 50th minute strike made it back-to-back wins for the World Cup runners-up.

“I don't think we gave them many chances, one sloppy mistake and they capitalised on it,” added Collins, after Cullen’s loose pass allowed Pavard to rifle in the winner from the edge of the box.

“But it comes from the back and comes from midfield, comes from the strikers. Not just one player's job, it is all the players.

“France are so good, they’re going to get a chance and they took it. We did so well to stay in the game and throw the kitchen sink in the last ten minutes. But I’m proud of the lads performance, there is so much to build on.”

Collins absolved Cullen of any blame for the winner. “I don't think we blame Josh. I don't think that’s right,” he added.

“There are many people who could have prevented the goal as well. There was more than half an hour left when we conceded, so we could have got back into it. Josh is a key player for this team, the way he holds the ball and controls midfield. There’s no reason for him to be down and think it is his fault, it is a team game.”

Collins teamed up with captain Séamus Coleman to keep World Cup Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe quiet at Lansdowne Road, and the defender praised his teammate.

“Listen, I had help didn't I? Seamie there. who was class again. It wasn't just me, it was the whole team. We nullified Mbappe but it was the whole team. I want to play against the best, test myself against the best and be the best I can.”