Kevin Doyle: All the pressure is on France today
ALL the pressure will be on host nation France in today’s Euro 2016 showdown against Ireland in Lyon – which gives us every chance of pulling off another famous victory.
I suggested in my Sunday World column last weekend that this Ireland squad is capable of playing a whole lot better than we managed against Belgium last weekend.
Well, the lads provided a swift confirmation of that assertion with their fantastic display and fully-deserved victory against Italy on Wednesday night.
The manager made bold changes to the Ireland line-up and, to his credit, they paid off.
The decision to include Daryl Murphy in Ireland’s starting line-up was the most significant change that helped to shift momentum in our favour after the 3-0 defeat against Belgium.
Shane Long had a thankless task in the first two games of the tournament as he was chasing down balls that gave him little or no chance of getting into the kind of positions we wanted him in.
With Murphy giving Shane some support in the front-line, suddenly the whole team came alive.
The ball was sticking up front when we moved it forward and it allowed so many of our talented players to shine, which was great to see.
I think some people unfairly look at Daryl’s lack of goals for Ireland and question why he is in the team, but ask all the lads in the squad and they will tell you how highly we rate him.
This is why I am hoping Martin O’Neill goes with two up top once again against France today, even if that means one of our tried and tested performers misses out.
It was harsh on Glenn Whelan to lose his place in the team against Italy as he has always been an important part of this Ireland team, but he has similar qualities to James McCarthy and, at times, the duo can end up doing the same job.
It was also big decision to change both of our centre-backs for such a crucial game, but the end result confirmed it paid off and now we will wait and see what the manager does going into this next game.
If O’Neill follows his normal routine, the players will only find out who is playing against France shortly before kick-off, but I am confident that fatigue is not going to be a major concern for us.
We may have only had four days to regroup since the emotion and drama of the Italy game, but I have been part of teams that enjoyed massive wins and tiredness is never an issue the next time you take to the field.
The Ireland lads will be full of adrenalin and on a real high heading into today’s game against the host nation and the manner of our victory against the Italians has given us huge momentum, which is crucial in any sport.
We should also be fuelled with so much confidence as the 1-0 win against the Italians, albeit a slightly weakened side, was so much more impressive than our famous win in the qualifier against Germany last October.
While we needed plenty of good fortune on our side to get the win against the world champions in Dublin, the performance against Italy proved we have players who can play good football against top quality opposition.
I expect we will hear a lot of talk ahead of this France game suggesting they have players who are a few steps ahead of us, but let’s put that idea to bed now.
Ireland have qualified for the last two European Championship finals and now we have got through to the knockout stages.
So it is now a fact that this generation of players has a better record in this competition than our famous Irish teams of the past.
We beat the reigning world champions just a few months ago and we have players who I firmly believe will be appreciated as top-quality Irish performers in years to come.
A decade from now, people will say we need to find the next Seamus Coleman or the next Robbie Brady just as people talk about our previous great players.
I hope occasions like last Wednesday remind us all that we are not as far behind Irish teams of yesteryear as people like to claim.
There were heroes all over the pitch and that should provide us with a blueprint for the way Ireland needs to play if we are going to get more results like that in years to come.
Our next opponents will be a step ahead of the Italian side we played last Wednesday after all their changes, but the confidence we gained from that win will bring us on too.
I was a starter in the Ireland side in Paris as we outplayed the home side in the World Cup play-off game, a game we should have won long before it went to extra time and was decided by THAT Thierry Henry handball in 2009.
It was a night when we showed what is possible when we are at our best in France and we should draw inspiration from it now.
Whatever happens, this Ireland squad has not let anyone down in Euro 2016 and, if we knock France out today, this adventure will move to a whole new level.
Good luck lads!