Irish team full of self-belief after Italy win, says O’Neill
Manager praises performance of players and fans as team prepares to take on France
Robbie Brady (C) of Republic of Ireland is congratulated by Martin O’Neill (R) manager of Republic of Ireland after their team’s 1-0 win in the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22nd in Lille, France. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
“The self-belief is very strong. If you can’t take something positive from that performance last night then you shouldn’t bother turning up, “ he said, speaking about the team’s 1-0 victory over Italy on Wednesday night.
However, he said that there was plenty of motivation within the team already.
“We’ve got a side that actually loves playing for their country and that’s very important. It’s a driving force among this group of players.”
Mr O’Neill said that while he is not a big YouTube fan, he had watched some of the clips over the last few days of Irish fans enjoying themselves.
“We’ve been forgiven for a low par performance in Bordeaux. The fans and players almost feed off each other. The energy between the fans and players was just gigantic last night and was enough to carry us over the line.”
He praised both the performance of the team, who he said had been “absolutely ready” to face Italy, and the fans, who he said had a special role to play in the victory.
“It is as much to do as players and supporters, a show of togetherness I haven’t seen for a long long time. Reminded me of some of the great European evenings at Celtic. ”
“There were absolutely extraordinary scenes. Having started the competition so strongly against Sweden, we felt we did ourselves proud. Then the game against Belgium where we certainly didn’t do ourselves justice, we felt that if that was the way we were going out of the competition it would have been a rather a meek fashion.
“If there was one big performance in the team then I think it was in part because of the fans, who travelled long distances supporting the team, spent a lot of money, there they were last night, it was an extraordinary performance for everyone.”
Mr O’Neill said that the humidity and closed roof at the stadium last night greatly added to the stadium’s atmosphere.
“It was hot and it was sticky. The noise level coming form our fans was extraordinary, with the roof closed in stadium last night it was even more deafening. When you’re playing a game of that intensity I don’t think you have to worry too much whether it’s sticky or not.”
Speaking about the incident just before half-time, where many believed Ireland should have been given a penalty, Mr O’Neill said said that there was “a lot of dissension in the dressing room” for a few minutes.
“When we saw the incident back, a clear cut penalty that wasn’t given, of course it makes you very very angry but there isn’t anything you can do about it.
“Of course you can bemoan your luck for about a minute and a half. When I say dissension - I mean the players were feeling aggrieved. It was a matter of settling down again. It’s gone, you can’t do anything about it you just go back and play. “
However he said that the drive to rectify the incident and to get a goal “was just amazing.
“Robbie (Brady) had to go very brave with that great ball from Wes (Hoolahan). He got smashed a few months ago in the face badly, in an incident when he was playing for Norwich, but he got on so bravely last night. If anyone deserved a goal, he did.”
“For us last night was knockout football. We knew that a draw wasn’t good enough for us to take us through. We also knew that it started a permutation I thought we were in the most difficult group by far. We had our work cut out for us with that group.”
After the game, the team spent some time in Lille while a number of players underwent standard drug tests, arriving back to Versailles at 3.30am.
Mr O’Neill said the whole squad is now focused on Sunday’s game.
“This is a squad game and when you’re in tournaments, players want to play. “You don’t go there with 11 players and think this is it, and if you pick up an injury you drop someone in, we have a squad of players and I believe we needed to be reenergised and players coming in give you that.
“Everybody wanted to see the team do well, including the players who were left out, who knows, they might roar back again.”
Mr O’Neill is now focused on getting the players to settle down again and get over the exhaustion of Wednesday’s game
“(We need to) get ourselves ready again, focused on the game, we will take the same energy into the match. The same belief which I think is the most important part, the self-belief that you can compete with these players.
“Absolutely give everything to the cause, you cannot have a ten or 15 minutes lull in a game, that’s very difficult to achieve.”