O’Neill hails Ireland’s ‘heart and soul’ but rues lost opportunity against France

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 1:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 1:06am

Martin O’Neill hailed the Republic of Ireland’s “heart and soul” effort as his 10-man side exited Euro 2016 at the hands of France despite taking an early lead on Sunday.

Antoine Griezmann scored twice in four minutes to breach O’Neill’s defence as France came from behind to win the last 16 clash 2-1 in Lyon.

Ireland made the perfect start with just two minutes gone when Paul Pogba brought Shane Long down and Robbie Brady converted the penalty to put Ireland ahead.

But after Griezmann’s double strike in the second-half, Ireland’s problems were compounded when defender Shane Duffy was sent off on 66 minutes.

Nevertheless, the Ireland manager was full of praise for his side.

“Naturally, we’re disappointed given the position we got ourselves into,” said O’Neill.

“Maybe if we had gone a few more minutes without conceding, France might have got a bit panicky, but then they scored in quick succession.

“The players could not have put more in.

“We put our heart and soul into the game, which has become almost a prerequisite for us.

“Some of the younger players have come of age and it’s down to them now.

“Reaching the last 16 is a good achievement and it’s something to build on.”

O’Neill said his side drew the short straw in having just three days rest after their final group game, while France had a week to prepare.

“It’s an incredible advantage for one team to have, but that said, France are a fine team and good luck to them in the tournament,” said the Irish boss.

The Republic’s ‘Green Army’ of fans have been a feature of the tournament, winning over French locals as they passionately supported their team.

The Irish were allocated a paltry 4,500 tickets at the 59,000-capacity stadium in Lyon, although there appeared to be several thousand more than in the stands, and O’Neill said they had given his side a boost.

“The fans have been wonderful in our four games and I believe they gave extra energy to the players throughout the tournament,” said O’Neill.

“The players mentioned their support in the warm-up against Sweden, before our first game, and that’s continued until the end.

“They [the fans] have behaved themselves brilliantly and been a credit to the country.”