They say that all good things must come to an end, but despite a heartbreaking last-16 exit to hosts France, there are plenty of positives for Republic of Ireland fans to take from their Euros campaign. Here’s why we could be hearing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ even louder and longer at the next major tournament.
They have one of Europe’s best defences
It’s common that fans hear pundits discuss how well-organised and solid Ireland are at the back, but to purely see them as a ‘solid’ side does a disservice to their superb backline.
Right-back Seamus Coleman provided slick passing and superb bursts forward on one flank, while the tough-tackling Stephen Ward proved himself adept at doing the less glamorous aspects of the game on the other side.
Add in the imposing and intelligent play of Richard Keogh and the aerial presence of Blackburn Rovers’ gigantic Shane Duffy, and you have a defence with many of the key attributes for tournament success.
For those who’d followed the team through qualifying, there was little shock in their 1-0 defeat of Italy. After all, in two games against World Champions Germany in qualifying, Martin O’Neill’s men conceded a solitary goal.
On their day, they can beat anyone
Talking of Germany, they’ve only lost two competitive fixtures since Euro 2012 – and one of those came at the hands of Republic of Ireland in October last year.
Italy boasted a similarly impressive record going into their clash with the Boys in Green last week, having not lost a competitive game since June 2014, but Robbie Brady left that record in tatters after his brave headed winner downed Gli Azzurri in a 1-0 win.
They even became the first side to score the opening goal against Les Bleus in France for nine games, when Brady’s penalty kicked off the scoring in that narrow last-16 defeat.
Against the world’s most expansive sides, Ireland’s excellent defence, counter-attacking nous and set-piece skill makes them a hugely difficult side to overcome. If they’re to end up facing Germany, Italy or Poland again in qualifying at Russia 2018 – provided they get there – the smart money could be on Ireland having a truly memorable tournament.
The new generation are talented and exciting
It might seem contradictory to talk about a ‘new generation’ when O’Neill’s squad were the oldest at Euro 2016, but with a number of exciting talents heading towards their peak – and several exciting youngsters just missing the cut – the future is indeed bright.
The 24-year-old Brady scored two of Ireland’s three goals in France this summer, while midfielder Jeff Hendrick – also the right side of 25 – impressed in all four of his outings in the tournament.
Seamus Coleman at 27 – is one of the Premier League’s best full-backs – and the likes of 21-year-old Callum O’Dowda and Eunan O’Kane both impressed in the run-up to the tournament and possess a bright future.
With all that in mind, there’s a good chance we’ll see the Republic of Ireland at World Cup 2018. They’re 9/2 to win a group containing the likes of Austria, Wales and Moldova, while it’s 11/4 that they make it to a second consecutive major tournament.
Chances are that winning the World Cup is still some way beyond this side, but having beaten Germany and Italy during the past 12 months, the 300/1 for them to lift football’s biggest prize could prove tempting for fans of the Boys in Green.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.