Kevin Doyle: We're much better than we showed against Belgium
ARD work, effort and passion can only take you so far in this game – and it frustrates me that Ireland fail to show their true potential on such a big stage.
If you watched yesterday’s game against Belgium in Bordeaux, you would have been under the impression that one team was three or four steps ahead of the other, but I don’t think it needs to be like that.
The big difference between Ireland and Belgium is that they have three or four top class performers and they have the ability to take the game away from you.
Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are top players and they also have some good quality on the bench.
Yet I don’t subscribe to the theory that they are as far ahead of us as it seemed from watching the game that put a huge dent in our Euro 2016 hopes.
We can do much better than we managed yesterday and I wonder why we don’t manage to perform to the level we are capable of in such a big game.
Ireland have good players and, even if Belgium are a little bit better in certain areas, it’s not a massive gulf, we would not lose a game 3-0 if we were at our best.
I have played with guys like Wes Hoolahan, Glenn Whelan, Robbie Brady and Shane Long for many years and they are quality players.
If you saw the training sessions and five-a-side matches we have in Ireland meet-ups, you would appreciate the quality we have in the group representing our country.
We can play and pass the ball as good as anyone.
Many of these players perform in the Premier League, which is meant to be the most competitive in world football.
They don’t look out of their depth when they play for their club sides against the same Belgium players they were up against yesterday, but something changes on the international stage.
We tend to rely a little too much on the hard work ethic that Ireland have long been associated with and hope we have a lucky day, when every shot gets blocked and we have a breakaway goal.
The 1-0 win against Germany that propelled us towards the Euro 2016 finals was an example of a night when that effort and endurance worked perfectly.
Yet you need everything to go your way to get results against top class opponents if you are playing on the back foot for 90 minutes – and it frustrates me when I see us playing like we did yesterday.
The display against Sweden at the Stade de France on Monday backs up the points I am trying to highlight here.
There we saw evidence of an Ireland team expressing themselves and showing some classy football as they bossed a game that should have ended up with a win.
In a way, that display gave us some false hope that we could go out and beat Belgium, but our old habits were on display again yesterday.
Shane Long is one of our most dangerous players, but he didn’t get much opportunity to have a big enough influence on the game – I know from experience that playing up front on your own for Ireland is no easy task.
I felt it was a time to bring on Daryl Murphy with Shane to take some of that load. Yes we would have lost a midfielder, but we bypass that area of the field a lot of the time anyway.
Shane spent most of his energy chasing down a lot of high balls and that is not making best use of his talents, but we didn’t have enough of the ball to take control of the game and that affected our attacking intent.
We have a manager who gives the players freedom to express themselves and work out a game for themselves in many ways.
O’Neill does not send his players onto the field with a load of instructions and messages and, while having a clear mind is helpful in some ways, it doesn’t always work.
It’s a method that has brought him success in the past and we have to hang on to the hope that we have a big performance in our locker in the Italy game.
I have read a few stories suggesting Italy may field a weakened team and rest players who are on yellow cards for the Ireland game, but that could work against us.
The players coming in will be desperate to do well and try to force their way into the team, so I’d rather play against Italian players who are on a yellow card and afraid to make a tackle.
Whatever team Italy put out in Lille, we will have a massive task to try and beat them, but Ireland have shown so many times in the past that we can cause a shock result once in a while.
Anything can happen in this game and, while we are all deflated by what we saw yesterday, there is still a chance for us to make progress if we believe in ourselves against a strong Italian team.
And when I say believe, I mean belief in our ability and not just in the idea that hard work will be enough for us to get a result.