Kevin Doyle: Ireland showed enough at Euros to give fans hope for Russia 2018 and beyond
A new, exciting Republic of Ireland team emerged at Euro 2016 but part of me is still frustrated that we let a chance to set up a 'giantkillers' quarter-final against Iceland tonight slip through our fingers.
After our fantastic first-half display against France in Lyon, we allowed the momentum to slip away by conceding the equaliser shortly after half-time and with that, the moment had passed.
If we could have got to the 70-minute mark with the 1-0 lead intact, the pressure would have mounted on France in front of their home fans and the chance may have been there to pull off an unexpected victory, but it wasn't to be.
The Ireland players were bursting with adrenaline and confidence after the win against Italy four days earlier and I didn't think fatigue was the factor that allowed France to come back.
Players are used to playing every four days in the modern game and it's not as if they spent the days ahead of the France game looking after their kids and having loads of stress in their lives.
Aside from a couple of training sessions, they'd have been sitting around in a nice hotel getting massages and relaxing, so they would have had plenty of time to recover from the Italy game.
Yet for the current Ireland team to beat an excellent France side, it'd have needed an amazing performance and plenty of luck going our way, a combination that doesn't happen too often.
Maybe there'd have had a chance to test them late on if we had not gone down to 10 men after Shane Duffy's red card, but the game had gotten away from us by then.
France, now favourites to win Euro 2016 ahead of tomorrow's final, are a good side but we had them rattled in that first half.
They stepped it up a couple of levels once they got the equaliser and that was to be expected, as most of their players are in Champions League teams and they've real quality on the bench as well.
In the end, they had a bit too much for us but the lads headed home with their heads held high.
It also feels as if there is real optimism behind the team once again ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
However, we should not settle for second best because, as 'little' Iceland showed at Euro 2016, anything is possible if you have a motivated and organised team who follow a game plan.
They didn't just beat England, they deservedly saw them off. In my opinion, we should all pay tribute to the efforts of Iceland.
People often point out that Ireland has a population of only 4.5million and that means we can't expect much on the international stage, but Iceland is home to just over 300,000 and they deserved to be in the quarter-final last night.
Iceland beat Holland home and away in qualifying and now they have made a big impression in their major tournament debut. They are a handful to play against and Ireland should draw inspiration from what they are achieving.
So even if we feel proud of the excellent performances of Ireland, Iceland are an example of a team performing above expectations and setting a bar for the rest to follow.
I played with Iceland's star man Gylfi Sigurdsson at Reading and he was a class act even then, but this is essentially a team maximising what they have got.
They have turned themselves into national heroes, even despite last night's loss.
Sigurdsson during Iceland's 5-2 defeat to France
Hopefully that can be the story for Ireland in upcoming major tournaments because I get a sense that our fans are energised to support the team once again.
There was a period when it felt as if the Ireland fans had lost a bit of faith in the team but everyone could see that these lads were giving their all, along with some good football, and that's all you can ask.
Ireland probably surpassed our own expectations at Euro 2016 and those who say we only got through to the knock-out phase because we played a second-string Italian team are doing them a disservice.
We turned in a good performance against Sweden, should have won, and the Italy team we beat still had a lot of top players who are all playing for big clubs.
That was a great win against the Italians, especially considering the pressure Ireland were under to deliver.
Now we can look back on a summer that saw some new heroes emerge, ones that have always had the quality.
Robbie Brady always had the talent to turn in the kind of displays we saw at Euro 2016 and the same goes for Jeff Hendrick – who was the player that did surprise me a little with his performances.
Jeff didn't play a whole lot for Derby due to injury last season and I wasn't sure if he'd be fit enough to make his mark at Euro 2016, but he did that and more.
This generation of Ireland players can offer plenty for the future and the aim now is to try and build on this.
Plenty of Ireland fans probably looked forward to Euro 2016 with hope rather than expectation, but the lads have confirmed that they are a team worthy of your magnificent support.
Kevin Doyle supports the Irish Cancer Society – www.cancer.ie/