Wednesday 26 October 2016

Now is the time for a new generation of heroes to make mark

Shane Long will need better support from his team-mates against Italy tonight. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Long will need better support from his team-mates against Italy tonight. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Time to stand up and be counted. Ireland's Euro 2016 fate rests on 90 minutes in Lille tonight and I want to see some new heroes in green.

Back through the history of Ireland's involvement in tournament football, we've seen great things achieved and players become legends in their own lifetime.

I was part of some of the best days but our time is long gone and and now we need a new chapter to carry us forward.

We ran Italy to a photo finish in Rome in 1990 and we beat them in Giants Stadium in '94 but in 20 years I'd like to think that we can look back and remember lads like Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick for great deeds done against Italy in Lille.

I'm more upbeat about this game than many. I've watched an awful of football in this tournament and one thing strikes me forcibly about Group E and Ireland's position in it.

There are at least four other groups which would have given Martin O'Neill's team an easier ride.

The group we are in truly is a nightmare and Sweden was always going to be our best chance. We didn't take it and my fear was always that we could take a hiding from Belgium.

Forget it

That's what happened but I don't believe there is any purpose served by dwelling on that game. If it all possible, the players should forget about it completely.

Difficult to do, I agree, but people like John O'Shea, Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan need to be big and strong around their younger team-mates today. They need to show no fear.

The problems against Belgium were obvious. Shane Long hunted alone and was hammered. There was a huge gap between him and Ireland's midfield and the defence caved in during the second half.

These things happen and unfortunately, all at the same time in this case. Quite a bit of that was down to Belgium.

The long balls played by Darren Randolph were as much about the fact that Belgium had forced green shirts firmly onto the back foot.

I think there was a bit of an inferiority complex at work but I think we will see Belgium doing that to Sweden tonight and then other teams as the tournament progresses.

But the performance against Sweden must be the template for this all-or-nothing attempt against Italy.

Ireland did most things well in the Stade de France in the opening game and some things brilliantly.

The players need to get back to the bedrock of that performance, which was about discipline, confidence on the ball and playing with freedom.

O'Neill may make changes but I'm not even sure that will make a big difference to the performance.

He will have to look at dropping Ciaran Clark and he may even think that James McCarthy's legs are not strong enough right now to carry him through such a huge game.

Wes Hoolahan had a very poor game against Belgium and I think his place is at issue.

Realistically though, O'Neill's bench doesn't offer any ready made solutions and it will all come down to attitude, regardless of the selection he makes.

They cannot show fear and they must take the game to an Italian side which has done very well to win two games.

To some degree, the Italians' performance has been over-hyped. They caught Belgium on a bad day and took full advantage.

They nicked a win against Sweden when a draw would have been a much fairer result.

So I don't think this is an insurmountable challenge.

I want to see Ireland on the front foot from the start. I want to see tackles flying in and I want the Italians to know that they are in the fight of their lives.

If they do it, if Ireland can find a way to make it into the knockout stage, I have no hesitation in saying that it would be the finest achievement of them all.

Go and be heroes, lads.


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