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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 28 February, 2020

'We have all the motivation in the world, we have a team who loves playing for their country'

Martin O’Neill says the team owed themselves a performance after letting the country down against Belgium.

O'Neill celebrates at full-time.
O'Neill celebrates at full-time.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE MORNING AFTER the night before and as the magnitude of the result begins to sink in, Martin O’Neill has been left to revel in arguably the greatest victory of his managerial career.

As the country savours and celebrates one of the great footballing nights, O’Neill has lauded his players after they conjured a stellar performance to see off Italy and book their place in the last 16.

“Just a remarkable performance by the team and it has as much to do about the players and supporters and the togetherness I haven’t seen in a long time,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk this morning.

“It reminded me perhaps of some of the great European evenings at Celtic but absolutely extraordinary scenes.

“We started strongly against Sweden and we didn’t do ourselves justice against Belgium. If that had been our last game we would have exited in a meek fashion but I felt we had one big performance left in us.

“It was an extraordinary, extraordinary performance from everyone.”

Robbie Brady’s 85th minute header sent the thousands of Irish fans and the whole country into delirium as the Boys in Green set up a last 16 tie with hosts France.

It was an outpouring of relief as much as joy after Ireland had knocked on the Italian door for much of the game.

Robbie Brady celebrates scoring his sides first goal with teammates Pile on! Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

James McClean was denied what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty just before the interval and then Wes Hoolahan spurned a gilt-edged chance moments before Brady’s intervention.

Looking back on those crucial moments, O’Neill concedes he felt it may have been one of those nights.

“There was a lot of dissension in the dressing room for a minute or two and then when we saw the incident back, a clear cut penalty which wasn’t given and of course it makes you very, very angry but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he continued.

“Of course you can bemoan your luck, the players were feeling aggrieved about it more than anything else. It’s a matter of settling down again, it’s gone you can’t do anything about it and you have to go back to playing.

“It happened right on the strike of half-time and it would have been an enormous boost for us there is no question about it.

“We had a great chance from Wes and when that’s not scored you think can you get another chance like that again to score a goal and chances are it’s not going to happen like that.

“I didn’t want it to be one of those evenings again when we played really good football but that’s poor old Ireland and didn’t got any luck and get knocked out and there’s no plaudits for that.”

After the team arrived back to their base in Versailles in the early hours of this morning, the focus now will turn to Sunday’s crunch clash with France in Lyon.

“They only have to look at the performance last night, if you can’t take anything from that game there’s no point in turning up [for Sunday with confidence that you can win].

“We have all the motivation in the world, we have a side who loves playing for the country. It’s a driving force among this group of players

“I’m not a big YouTube man but to watch some of the scenes from the last few days from the fans enjoying themselves immensely and probably getting rid of some of that disappointment from Bordeaux, I think we’ve been forgiven for that below-par performance.

“We felt as if we owed ourselves a performance, never mind anyone else and it came in droves last night.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

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Meanwhile in Iceland…this commentator went absolute wild when his team scored a late winner

RTÉ or TV3? Here’s where you can watch Ireland v France and the rest of the last 16 games

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Ryan Bailey

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