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Martin O'Neill On Why The Rugby Loss Made it Extra Important To Win This Week

Martin O'Neill On Why The Rugby Loss Made it Extra Important To Win This Week
By Conor Neville

If the rugby team fail, then it's incumbent on the Irish football team to pick up the baton. So said Martin O'Neill in an interview on Off the Ball last night.

It would have been a sour Christmas had the two most important international sports teams on the island failed to achieve their objectives. Who remembers the harrowing autumn of 2007? The Irish rugby team suffered a breakdown in France and Steve Staunton's time in charge of the Irish soccer team dribbled to a grizzly end.

I know these sporting events can sometimes get a bit overplayed. With the disappointment of the rugby side, where there was a great opportunity - I'm not saying win the tournament against New Zealand as that was always going to be difficult, but perhaps the semi-final, it felt like taking the baton on. And if we hadn't made it, it might have been a lot of drudgery around Christmas time.

I'm really, really delighted for the crowd who will come to France.

O'Neill spoke about the broad sweep of the campaign and and his tenure as a whole. During the summer of 2014, Ireland participated in a tournament in America, in which they were outclassed by Portugal. With the World Cup about to commence without Ireland, there was a sense that the team had retreated into the wilderness and there was no sign of recovery. But O'Neill said he was bemused by the importance attached to poor performances in friendlies early in his reign.

It was amazing to find that these friendly games, that people were making vast judgements about these friendly matches. I was unaware of the possible importance of some friendly matches. That you can have a higher co-efficient by winning some games. If that was the case, I wouldn't have minded playing the 700th ranked country in the Aviva every week to build up points. I never felt that this was going to achieve anything...  When we lost early friendly games, this was the end of the world for the media. And this was not the idea at all. It was about trying to build something. It was about trying to find out what players could do at international level.

O'Neill was also adamant that Ireland's propensity for scoring late goals was a good sign rather than merely a sign of good fortune.

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If you keep giving the ball away ridiculously badly then, I have to say, it becomes a problem. So those are the sort of things you want to do. But mostly you've got to compete and you've got have heart and soul in it and that's what pleased me. The side never, ever gave up. They kept going. Some people started to say 'you scored late goals' almost as if it was a criticism that you score late goals. Actually Manchester United made a habit of it for over a decade. For us to score late goals in matches, I thought that showed something, that we had a bit of courage and determination to keep going.

Read more: Why Martin O'Neill Absolutely Must Make An Exception For Darren Randolph

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