Martin O'Neill kicks the ball during a training session at the Grand Stade in Decines-­Charpieu, near Lyon, France. Claude Paris
looking ahead

Martin O'Neill criticises 'totally disproportionate' ticketing situation

Ireland face one of the biggest matches in their history against France tomorrow.

Paul Fennessy reports from Lyon

IRELAND BOSS MARTIN O’Neill has criticised the “totally disproportionate” ticketing situation ahead of tomorrow’s Ireland-France match.

Irish fans have been allocated under 5,000 tickets in the 59,000-capacity Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium, and the Derry native is unimpressed at how Boys in Green supporters have been treated.

“I think that the ticket allocation is something I do have a gripe about,” O’Neill said. “It’s totally disproportionate for a stadium of this size and this brilliance. For us, or any team that was going to be playing in the round of 16 here, to be allocated less that 5,000 tickets is, I think, pretty unfair, honestly.

I’m quite sure a few gentlemen round about the place wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I think it is. It’s totally disproportionate, and not just because it’s us. It would be for any side.

“There should have been a certain allocation left aside for the side that would make it here. France have had that opportunity, having advanced three days before us, and so it’s going to be severely one-sided in that aspect.

As regarding the rest, you just have to take that into consideration. It was always going to be the case when we kicked off last in the competition, that we were going to face this problem at some stage or another if we qualified.

“It’s upon us now, we just have to deal with it.”

Despite coming up against a highly talented French side that are the current favourites to win Euro 2016 outright at 4/1, O’Neill is optimistic that the Irish team can compete at their level while emulating the adventurous approach of the Italy match.

I have spent my time in the last two-odd years here in qualification sending out what I would consider adventurous teams to win games.

“The players have played two games in succession — we played a very adventurous game against Sweden, we weren’t allowed to play well against Belgium and that can happen because they are a top-class side.

“They are rated one or two in the world at the moment, so that might tell you something about them and they are entitled to be able to pass it past us occasionally.

In the game against Italy, we knew needed some extra energy in the team. We have some older players playing, certainly in their 30s, so we had to get that energy into the side, which we did — and not only did we have that energy, we played brilliantly in the match, so we have those things to look forward to.

“But I don’t think you would want to head out of the competition meekly, that’s the most important thing. You want to go out blazing if you can and we want to try to stay in it because we feel we can do something.”

One of the defining characteristics of this Ireland side is their ability to score crucial late goals, netting late on in competitive matches against Georgia, Germany, Poland and Italy since O’Neill took over.

The Ireland manager therefore feels mental strength is one of his side’s most important attributes.

“The very fact that we had spurned a great, great chance with about five or six minutes left in the match against Italy (Wes Hoolahan’s miss), and I suppose the players would have been thinking, ‘That’s it’.

“Then Robbie Brady starts a move off and continues his run into the penalty area, absolutely magnificent, meets the ball without any fear at all. I think that goal probably epitomised the spirit we have in the team.

“And — we keep talking about spirit — we have got some players who can play, some players who have come of age. Robbie has been terrific, Jeff Hendrick has been great. There have been some great performances by the side, which there had to be because you couldn’t play that well against Sweden or you couldn’t play that well against Italy and get four points in the group if we hadn’t had some players who can play.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill refused to rule out Stephen Ward or Jon Walters for Sunday’s match, with both players recovering from respective injuries and taking a limited part in training over the past few days.

Ward is “improving daily,” according to his manager, after the Burnley defender received a kick to his ankle during the Italy match. O’Neill said that Walters “has done very well the last couple of days” having not played since being substituted early in the second half of Ireland’s opening match against Sweden. The 64-year-old coach added that the management team would “see how they are” ahead of the France encounter.

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