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Thierry Henry has a hand to play in the battle of France

By Ian Herbert

Published 24/06/2016

Republic manager Martin O'Neill applauds his team's supporters after his team's 1-0 win against Italy
Republic manager Martin O'Neill applauds his team's supporters after his team's 1-0 win against Italy

Suddenly, against every expectation, the Republic of Ireland find themselves with a chance to avenge the moment when that hand of Thierry Henry's denied them a place at the 2010 World Cup. Martin O'Neill was not setting out to make a diplomatic incident of it yesterday but said enough to reveal that he quietly appreciates its value as a weapon.

The Ulsterman is not one to pass up an opportunity like that. Henry had been reluctant to talk about that goal (below) in the 18 hours since the Republic's 1-0 win over Italy had sent them into a last 16 match against the French in Lyon, O'Neill was told.

"What a surprise," he said.

The French feel a guilt about it, it was put to him. "Why shouldn't they? It was a serious breach of dishonour," he said. "Don't put that down…"

Some feel it was a badge of honour to have saved France, however disreputably, it was then suggested. "Oh well done, brilliant, so I b******d it up. Put that back in again. So it was honourable, Thierry Henry lives forever…"

The tone hovered between humour and sarcasm because O'Neill knows all too well the psychological advantage presented by the national complex which seems to be surfacing again here about the events of 2009 in the Stade de France.

"Les Irlandais dissent avoir oublie la man de Thierry Henry - mais ils n'en pensent pas un mot" (The Irish say they've forgotten the hand of Thierry Henry - but they've not forgotten a word) one national title declared yesterday.

Working to the last is the core philosophy and O'Neill has this capacity to make players ready to run to the end of the earth for him.

The football is not always pretty and certainly not the most technically proficient, but the psychological strength is there. It is why last minute goals like Wednesday night's come so often for the team.

"You have to try and get into their heads and feel they actually belong there for at least that game," O'Neill said.

"The players have got to believe. If a player comes from a Championship side then the biggest thing is that you have to make players believe they belong on the big stage."

He also took some big decisions before the match against Italy, not least dropping his captain John O'Shea and installing Everton's Seamus Coleman as skipper.

O'Neill said: "Whatever I said to him and he said to me, it was we have to be ready for the game, got to be ready for it and not only was he ready for it, he galvanised the team. Off the field, he is a really quiet lad but he has a bit of grit and determination about him."

Coleman is now the man in possession where the armband is concerned, though less clear is whether Stoke's Jon Walters, a huge part of the Republic's journey under O'Neill, will be fit to play in Lyon on Sunday. The side are a different proposition when he, their stand-out striker, does start.

O'Neill said: "(I would) absolutely, absolutely (love him to play) because if anybody deserves it he does."

O'Neill spoke just as passionately about the role of Roy Keane. The affection of their embrace in the aftermath of victory in Lille was surprising to behold, in Keane at least. "He doesn't always have to be balling around and thinking he has to live up to an image," O'Neill said. "There's loads of times when it's the opposite and he's rather self-effacing."

Keane will sit down to talk about Sunday's game today and France will be listening. A good man to have in your corner. Be sure of one thing: the Irish won't be going quietly.

  • France v Rep of Ireland, Euro 2016 Round of 16: Lyon, Sunday, 2.00pm

Belfast Telegraph

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