EURO 2016

Paul McGrath gives us his blueprint on how to beat Italy

McGrath: Up front I’d pick Robbie Keane alongside Shane Long
McGrath: Up front I’d pick Robbie Keane alongside Shane Long

God that hurt! To see our players left looking like a rabble in the second half of a crucial European Championships match was tough.

It was men against boys once Belgium scored. If it sounds cruel to good pros, I’m sorry, I’m not kicking you when you are down, I’m just writing what my eyes tell me happened. 

In the second half we had the life squeezed out of us, just like they squeeze the juice out of the grapes that make Bordeaux famous.

Ireland were exposed with three or four of our players just shown up as being a step below this level.

Especially the level of a team like Belgium, who are potential winners of this event.

I swear, the grizzled old centre-half in me knew the instant Ciaran Clark dived in on Eden Hazard that a third goal would result.

Look, at 2-0 we were struggling, I’m not stupid.

But there was always a dream of getting a goal from somewhere and then bringing Belgian nerves into play.

Don’t give them a third goal because you fly in for the ball.

Stand on your feet. Buy your team-mates that extra second to get back and help you.

But don’t expose your team like that – it was basic stuff we got wrong.

It all started so well as we limited Belgium to half chances and began to play on their fear after losing the opener against Italy.

However once Belgium got ahead they were ruthless and went for Irish throats.

Contrast that with us against Sweden last Monday. Once in front, we fell back.

Maybe not holding onto the lead given to us by Wes Hoolahan against Sweden will be our undoing yet.

That’s the difference between the best international sides.

Once given an opening, the top countries pounce.

Is there anything we can do now to save the day? 

Well, we’ll have to bring that old Irish spirit to the party and somehow find the passion, the heart and the legs to have a go on Wednesday against Italy.

That’s all that’s left for us. The lads knew before going out yesterday that we had to win one of the two remaining games to get into the last 16.

The one thing that has changed is that there’s now only one game left – but we have to win it.

I’d go for it with every weapon we have right from the off.

If I was Martin O’Neill the first thing I’d do is to ask Jon Walters if he can give me even an hour against Italy.

It might not be what anyone at Stoke City may want to read, and I didn’t like the way Jon did a warm-up on his own yesterday, he wasn’t even with the other subs.

But without a Wednesday win we all troop home on Thursday. There’s nowhere left to go.

Should Jon believe himself capable of giving something, he should be handed that opportunity. 

He did enough for us in the qualifiers to earn that much respect.

If Jon can’t go at all, start Aiden McGeady instead.

He’s got a trick, a bit of class. The little man can beat people, and that’s what we’ll need against Italy, whether we playing their first, second or Antonio Conte’s third-choice defence.

And up front I’d pick Robbie Keane alongside Shane Long.

Robbie may not be the force of old, but by God he still has those goalscoring instincts.

I’ve seen Robbie score enough MLS goals this season to know he has one more big goal in him. How we need it on Wednesday .

Watching Saturday's two other games, I couldn’t  help but throw my mind back to last December and the Finals draw in Paris.

Each time a 50-50 call went against Ireland with just two balls left in one of the bowls.

We got Sweden instead of Hungary and then Italy instead of Austria.

For the second tournament in a row, after getting the world champions and their predecessors the last time, Ireland’s Euro goose may have been cooked in the draw.