May 25, 2016

    Ireland hope to put past nightmare behind them


    IRELAND have qualified for the European Championship for the second time in a row but they will hope the campaign in France is more successful than their dismal exploits in 2012.

    A 3-1 defeat against Croatia in their group opener was followed by a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain as they became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament.

    The 2-0 loss against Italy in their final match condemned the Irish to their worst performance at a major event.

    That misery was a far cry from their only previous Euros appearance in 1988 when Jackie Charlton's side defeated England 1-0.

    They then earned a creditable draw with the Soviet Union before coming within seven minutes of a semi-final berth, until a late 1-0 defeat to eventual champions Netherlands sent them home.

    Martin O'Neill has a tricky task at Euro 2016 as he considers whether to stick with his veterans for one last crack at the big time or go with the youngsters who will form the nucleus of his squad for the 2018 World Cup.

    Robbie Keane, Ireland's record goalscorer, is 35; key defender John O'Shea is 34; goalkeeper Shay Given is 40 and 33-year-old playmaker Wes Hoolahan plans to consider his international future after the tournament.

    It is almost time for a changing of the guard, with the likes of Eunan O'Kane, Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie, Harry Arter and Christopher Forrester representing the next generation.