We can take great heart
Disappointing result but O’Neill now has real building block for the future
Ireland can take great heart from Euro 2016. The players know that they came very close to upsetting one of the tournament favourites.
France were in serious trouble when Didier Deschamps got them into the dressing room for half-time and he made a very good substitution in bringing on Kingsley Coman.
It changed the momentum and it changed the game.
But they were still there to be beaten and Ireland had chances to score on either side of half-time which might well have put the game beyond France.
So Martin O’Neill and his players are right to be disappointed with the result but they should be reasonably happy with the way the last three weeks went for them.
All told, it was a mixed bag. Good against Sweden, awful against Belgium, good against the Italian ‘B’ team and very good against France for an hour.
In fact, that hour was without doubt the best of the tournament and gives me plenty to be optimistic about for the future.
There were negatives from the game which cannot be ignored and they follow the theme which I’ve been worried about for some time.
Inconsistent selection meant that this was the first time since he took the job that Martin O’Neill put out the same team twice. Ironically, I would have made one change.
John O’Shea might have made a very big difference if he was on the pitch for both French goals but we will never know now so there is no point in dwelling on that.
Shane Duffy sacrificed himself for the team and should not be blamed in any way for the red card but both he and Richard Keogh will blush when they review the video of Antoine Griezmann’s first goal.
In fact, if you go back on the six goals Ireland conceded in this tournament, you have to say that they all came from poor defending and that was a strength throughout the qualifying.
It is definitely something O’Neill must work on and it could well be that he loses O’Shea and several other senior players.
There was a great deal made of tired legs before the game but I don’t real buy into that idea. It did have some impact towards the end of the game but I think that was as much about the fact that Ireland were reduced to ten men as any absence of energy.
They started really well and didn’t look like tired players at all. They put France under so much pressure that they creaked at the back from the very start.
Deschamps is managing with some really ordinary defenders and it could cost them dearly as this tournament progresses.
I’ve watched almost all of the games now and I don’t see an outstanding team yet so I wouldn’t write off France in any way.
Good teams get better as a tournament progresses and from midfield forward, France have plenty of talent and plenty of possibilities.
But if you cast your mind back four years to Poland and the Ukraine, it was pretty obvious from the first few games that Spain would win.
They clearly had the best players and the best manager but this time, I don’t see a team or manager with the look of champions.
Against that background, Ireland’s disappointment is realistic.
But O’Neill and his players can take heart from the fact that there is a very definite levelling out in standards and I believe that this will continue in the coming years.
The real plus from all of this is the emergence of young lads like Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, exciting and entertaining footballers who give the lie to the idea that no good new players are coming through.
Seamus Coleman grew in this tournament and so did lads like James McClean and Richard Keogh.
I thought James McCarthy improved as the days went by but I do wonder was he fully fit and all the reservations about his unwillingness to get on the ball and use it well remain.
Perhaps he can take some confidence from his performances against Italy and France.
I thought Shane Long had a good tournament and will bring confidence to the new season in England and into the qualifying for Russia.
In terms of the management team, I still think that there was far too much chopping and changing and O’Neill’s inability to settle on a team from early on cost us against Belgium.
He now knows what it is to manage an international team in a tournament environment and I’ve no doubt he will learn lessons.