Euro 2016: Pride in defeat for plucky Irish team
Ireland’s Euro 2016 exit was inevitable the minute that it was known that it was France that they had drawn in the last 16. But unlike our experience at the Euros in 2012, the team did the country proud and they went down fighting. The performances against Sweden (first half), Italy, and France (first half) were outstanding. Most Irish people realise that we just don’t have the class players in our squad and all they want to see is a good fighting spirit – and we saw that. Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane did a very good job managing these players and they can be justifiably happy with how they got on overall at this tournament.
In 2012, under Giovanni Trapattoni, there were huge recriminations after three very poor displays. The team played awful football then and even the fans were not happy – and it takes a lot to make Irish fans unhappy. O’Neill and Keane have turned that around completely. I wouldn’t be getting carried away though. Shay Given, Robbie Keane and John O’Shea will retire, and Wes Hoolahan and Jonathan Walters are likely to call it a day as well. It is hard to replace players of that quality.
We will now be looking to the likes of Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy and even James McCarthy. Whether these lads will be able to step up and be the leaders of the future remains to be seen, but with Martin O’Neill at the helm, we can look forward to a productive World Cup campaign.
In the meantime, it has been a wonderful Euro tournament for Ireland and their wonderful supporters. I have heard only some of the great stories coming out of France since the Green Army landed on their shores, and I am sure more will emerge now that they are back home. The people who went out to France are a credit to the country – there wasn’t one arrest over the two and a half weeks of the tournament. Their attitude is –why go out to a tournament in a foreign country and fight, when you can be having the craic? And they are right.
With regard to the rest of the tournament, I watched the game between Wales and Northern Ireland and it was absolutely terrible stuff. Having said that, Wales are a good side and they could get to the semi-finals at least. But in the past few days we have seen the big guns flex their muscles. Germany were really good at the weekend, as were Belgium. France look a good side too, but I am not so sure that they have the real class players to win it.
Despite the football being conservative for the most part, the Euros have been very enjoyable and the atmosphere has been fantastic. The French authorities have been very good hosts particularly considering the enormous pressure that they have been under.
Rossies will fancy chances against Galway
The question on everyone’s lips since the Connacht semi-final against Sligo is: Can Roscommon beat Galway on July 10th? The emphatic answer is ‘yes’. But it is a 50/50 game, no more no less.
We will have a major Connacht final preview in the paper next week, but despite what they have been saying, I am convinced that the Roscommon management team had been training for a Connacht final against Mayo and that they have had to rethink now.
Galway may not be as strong as Mayo, and they may have caught the multiple champions on the hop in Castlebar, but any time Galway get a sniff of success they go for it with all guns blazing – and this is no exception. They are at home in Salthill, and since Pearses Stadium was renovated a good few years ago now, Roscommon have not beaten Galway there.
The dogs in the street know that Roscommon have had a problem at midfield this year – and that’s where Galway are strongest.
The key to this Connacht final will be whether Roscommon can rediscover the kind of high-octane possession and running game that we saw in the league games against Cork and Donegal. There were glimpses of it in the second half against Sligo, but if we can get our attackers on the ball – and running at the Galway defence – we have a great chance. One thing that worries me about Galway is that Damien Comer and Shane Walsh, who are two class forwards, did not play that well against Mayo. If they are firing against Roscommon, then we could be in trouble.
I think it will be a very close Connacht final. It’s a great opportunity for Roscommon to win a provincial final. We will go into more detail next week.
Time for RTE panel to call it a day?
We hear that there are going to be a number of retirements from the Irish soccer team after exiting the Euros at the weekend, and the RTE Sports Department should consider putting Johnny Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady out to pasture as well. They have had a good run, but their time is up.
Dunphy castigated Martin O’Neill for his team selection before the game against Italy, yet the manager was vindicated with the best Irish display of the tournament – and in a number of years as well. He hammered James McCarthy in every game. It was totally over the top from Dunphy. He and Giles in particular, have been so wrong in their analysis on an ongoing basis it’s actually a bit of a joke at this stage.
Even at half-time on Sunday last they were all certain that Ireland would go on and score a second goal and win easily against a very poor French team – when we all know that France, with the class players that they have, were always going to stage a revival.
Dunphy told us that Belgium were not a good side and had no chance of winning the Euros. Against Ireland, Belgium were class, and anyone who saw them rip Hungary apart last Sunday night would never come to the opinion that they are a poor side.
Look, we had great craic with these guys over the years, but it’s time to replace them with younger blood. I thought that Damien Duff was very good any time he was on. Get a few fresh faces in.
Disappointing weekend for Irish rugby
The Irish rugby team bowed out tamely in the third test against South Africa but it is a credit to Joe Schmidt and the players that they were so competitive in their three games. They pushed South Africa all the way after what was such a long season. The players have gone through the World Cup, playing with their provinces, the Six Nations, and now the tour to South Africa. They deserve a break. The U-20 team were simply outclassed against England in the World Cup Final. They were blown away with the start that England made, and it was always going to be hard to come back from 21-0 down. Still, there is great hope for the future and there are several young Irish players who have a huge future in the game – and of course they have the memory of beating Grand Slam champions Wales and the mighty All Blacks along the way.
Championship Crystal Ball
Ulster SFC Semi-Final Replay: Donegal v Monaghan on Saturday in Cavan – Having plumped for Monaghan last week I was disappointed with the way they played against Donegal, who were unlucky not to win. It was a poor enough game, which had a fairly nasty undercurrent. Michael Murphy was off target with a few scoreable frees, which was not like him. Hard to pick a winner here, but having gone with Monaghan last week I am going to stick with them – but in hope rather than in confidence. Prediction: Monaghan.
Munster SFC Kerry v Tipperary on Sunday in Killarney – The fact that it’s Tipperary and not Cork facing Kerry will shave about 15,000 off the gate at Fitzgerald Stadium. Thirty-one counties will be rooting for Tipperary, who have some brilliant young footballers, but in reality Kerry will be too strong, particularly at home. We can only hope that Tipp make a game of it. Prediction: Kerry.
Ulster SFC Semi-Final Replay: Cavan v Tyrone on Sunday in Clones – The drawn match was one of the best games of the championship so far, with Cavan fighting back to earn a share of the spoils. Tyrone were annoyed that they didn’t shut out the game the last day, and while Cavan are an emerging side, and will put up another huge challenge, Tyrone will make no mistake this time. Prediction: Tyrone.
Leinster SHC Final: Galway v Kilkenny on Sunday in Croke Park – Galway are an unknown quantity and they have got to this final without much fuss. GAA fans wait every year for the demise of Kilkenny, but it never happens, and on the basis of the hammering that they gave to Dublin, they should win another Leinster title here. Prediction: Kilkenny.
All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers
I am predicting wins this weekend for: Wexford (v Offaly), Limerick (v Westmeath), Clare (v Laois) and Dublin (v Cork).
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers
There should be wins this weekend for Laois (v Armagh, in a re-fixture) and Sligo (v Leitrim).