Martin: my boys gave their all
Martin O'Neill paid tribute to his Republic of Ireland players who gave "every ounce of energy" in their 2-1 Euro 2016 exit to France and urged the younger members of his dressing-room to use the experience to raise the bar for the road ahead.
Antoine Griezmann's second-half brace broke Irish hearts after a second-minute penalty from Robbie Brady put the underdogs on course for a huge upset.
Ultimately, an unchanged side from the famous midweek win over Italy ran out of gas against a French team which had the benefit of three days' extra rest. The tired Shane Duffy was sent off for a professional foul on Griezmann that removed the possibility of a grandstand finish.
With Shay Given and Robbie Keane expected to retire and uncertainty hanging over the future involvement of John O'Shea, Wes Hoolahan and other thirtysomethings, O'Neill has called on the likes of Duffy, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and James McCarthy to learn from the French adventure and lead the way forward for the start of the World Cup campaign in the autumn.
"We put our heart and soul into the game," said O'Neill. "There's natural disappointment considering the position we got ourselves into but the players could not have put anything more into it. They didn't have an ounce of energy left. This tournament has been great for the players, great for some of the younger players taking their place on this stage."
"The players could not have put any more into the game," said O'Neill.
"The tournament has been great for the players, good for some of the younger players who have come of age and great for the supporters, but I'm disappointed given the position we got ourselves into.
"If we could had led for another six or seven minutes we could have used it to our advantage with France getting nervous. Then for them to score to other goal so quickly…
"France are a really fine team and good luck to them, they are possibly the tournament favourites, but we had them under severe pressure" added O'Neill.
"We took the lead and at half time we are feeling we can win the match. I feel the players extracted the maximum, but while reaching the last 16 is an achievement it is not something to rest on."
O'Neill's men had half France's six-day recovery time and the boss said it had affected their energy levels.
"We knew about (the difference) before, but it is an incredible amount of time for one team to have over another one."
Didier Deschamps, the French coach, said: "We don't do things easily, but I have not seen any team that does in this tournament, it is a very balanced championships. I knew this match would be difficult and when Ireland took the lead it made us more uncomfortable."
Deschamps changed his team at the break, bringing on Kingsley Coman for N'Golo Kante, and said: "With Ireland quite deep, I wanted to get Griezmann next to Oliver Giroud. Above all I wanted to get more presence up front. We saw a lot more fluidity and Antoine showed his skill and ruthlessness in front of goal.
"With their emotion this French team is making everyone fall in love with them."
Griezmann revealed there were harsh words in the France dressing room as the hosts staged a major fightback to edge into the quarter-finals.
"We didn't play well in the first half and we said things in the changing room," explained the Atletico Madrid star.
"The coach said things, the players said things, but we were playing for France to give everything we had. Our fans helped us and we are happy that we managed to get there."