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Sunday 27 May 2018

Defeat a chastening experience for us admits a rueful O'Neill

Dejected Ireland pair Jeff Hendrick (left) and Shane Duffy.
Dejected Ireland pair Jeff Hendrick (left) and Shane Duffy.

Too late for regrets now, but Martin O'Neill admits he wishes he had done things differently in Tuesday's playoff defeat to Denmark as Ireland's World Cup hopes came crashing down.

The Danes now book their tickets to Moscow for the finals draw in two weeks' time while O'Neill and his Ireland panel, pride battered by that 5-1 defeat, face the grim outlook of a 10-month wait for the next game of consequence, in the new Nations League.

A long time for O'Neill to mull over the shambles that was Tuesday night in Dublin, a night when nothing went right.

O'Neill is one of the best-paid managers in international football and he should know that with financial reward comes great responsibility.

Holes have been poked in everything he did, from the way he prepared this team, to the XI he selected, the formation he picked and the choices he made off the bench.

Ex-international defenders such as Gary Breen, Kenny Cunningham and Richard Dunne, men who have no personal axe to grind and who speak their minds clearly, have raised questions.

"On Saturday I was very pleased with the team, more so than Tuesday night. I was asked the question on the television, I think when you are beaten in a game you have to analyse it and think that maybe you could have..." says O'Neill, his voice trailing off.

"We have been beaten, well beaten, and I think we'll have to have a genuine look at it. I would be nice to think in hindsight that I'd have done something else," he admits.

That call, to replace Harry Arter and David Meyler at half time - and surely that was the first time in the history of the national team that the captain was hauled off at half time by choice and not by necessity - was a big one.

"I knew that the substitutions would weaken us physically but you're hoping to try and get something, try and get a little bit of creativity, with Aiden wide and Wes maybe joining in and hoping that we could create something from that," O'Neill added.

"It wasn't to be. But being well beaten in the game is the major disappointment."

Different

"Had the second goal gone in it might have been a totally different story," he says, referring to those first-half chances from Daryl Murphy and James McClean which were wide of the target, at a stage of the game where Ireland were leading 1-0.

"But once you give two very poor goals away, it changes the dynamic of the game.

"Obviously it forces us to come on out and try and score a couple of goals to get back into the game.

"Of course, we left ourselves physically weaker by the substitutions we made but we were still hoping to get something out of it.

"This is a chastening experience for us. We were well beaten in the match.

"We made a lot of mistakes, mistakes that, generally speaking during the campaign, we have not been making on a regular basis.

"The players will, I am hoping, take a bit of time out to look at it and I hope that eventually it's not damaging, that these players have proper careers in front of them."

O'Neill, who has agreed (but not signed) a contract with the FAI up until the Euro 2020 tournament, appears intent on seeing out that contract.

But he accepts that a batch of his players will not be around to play for Ireland (possibly) as one of the joint hosts of Euro 2020.

John O'Shea (36), Wes Hoolahan (35), Daryl Murphy (34), Glenn Whelan (33) and maybe even Jon Walters (34) could opt to retire from the national team.

"There are some players who would feel now that had we qualified and had the team gone on to the finals, they may have stayed, but they probably will be bringing their international careers to an end.," said O'Neill, stating that those players were outstanding servants.

"In my time, yes, they have been fantastic."

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