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O'Neill clings to hope but it's a lost cause

ONE of the small and very local comforts enjoyed by football fans in this country for years was the fact that our Celtic brethren and nearest neighbours could only watch our sporadic collisions with the big time, green with envy.

It's going to be very, very hard to live through the Euro 2016 finals this time next year if current momentum drives England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to France while we stand with our thumbs out and a wistful look on our faces.

Martin O'Neill seems to think that Ireland are very much in the race to qualify. Only in as much as we have to play four more games and finish out the set.

Qualifying is no longer something O'Neill has in his control and it has been slipping from his grip with a sickening sense of inevitability since Glasgow last November.

O'Neill is putting his faith in the 'twists and turns' of a full campaign to somehow even out in his favour but his assessment of the current state of play runs contrary to any reasonable assessment.

"Yes, we're very disappointed, obviously, because this was the chance here to go in front of Scotland and give us a real, real opportunity of doing something," said O'Neill.

"But we're not out of it. Genuinely not out of the group, because I've seen groups before and I've seen things turn and twist."

"I know that you're looking at perhaps too far forward for us in that sense to be looking at Germany and Poland, but it might come down to the fact that we may need something from those games."

We've all seen groups turn and twist but mostly in the wrong direction and almost always when Ireland hasn't done enough to earn the right to be included in the big show. Bad teams seldom qualify from a European group.

That's the reality of the draw with Scotland. Ireland didn't do enough to win. For all the talk about team spirit and commitment, about late goals which saved and won points home and away, it takes even more mental strength to win a game and this Ireland team shows none of that.

It should come from the manager. He should point the way and send out lads like Wes Hoolahan to do the work but O'Neill's whole treatment of Ireland's best player has been uncertain - right up to and including the moment he took him off the pitch and gave Robbie Keane a chance.

Certainty and trust would have kept Hoolahan on the pitch, continuing to worry the Scottish defence and mining space opened up by tired legs. It was a huge call and it didn't work out for O'Neill and Ireland.

If O'Neill had to make the calls, he needed some of his big guns to deliver and with that in mind, Séamus Coleman will need some time to digest how bad his delivery was throughout the game. You could argue it cost Ireland two points.

Gordon Strachan spoke about a spell which produced 12 corners for Ireland but what he didn't mention (he didn't need to) was the fact that many of them ended up in the kind of area a small aircraft with a banner behind it might fly in.

Coleman's form for his country is a mystery but perhaps symptomatic of players who can reach the required level of concentration in the Premier League but struggle to do it at international level.

EURO 2016