(Credit: Extratime.ie)

Lyon clash less a case of Irish revenge as French redemption
Published: June 26, 2016

There were tears shed in the aftermath of Ireland's dramatic win over Italy at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille – and not just from the fans.


And not just in the aftermath either, as shown by Robbie Brady's unsuccessful attempts to stem the flow as he ran towards the Irish fans following his 85th-minute winner.


The emotion of the occasion – the fact just two minutes earlier the chance seemed to have come and gone as Wes Hoolahan failed to score from a one-on-one with Salvatore Sirigu – was overwhelming.


Yet, less than four full days later, this Irish side have to do it all over again, to draw from those same reserves of passion and energy – and this time against the hosts in a stadium where, at best, fans will be outnumbered nine to one.


There's a comparison to be drawn here with other sports in Ireland – the rugby team's win over France at the World Cup last September was a similarly emotional affair, with players weeping on the field.


They were promptly beaten out the gate in the quarter-final a week later, starved of many of their leaders from the previous game but also seemingly starved of the well of desire that pulled them through the previous game.


It will be yet another test of Martin O'Neill's management to see if he can manage the comedown from the euphoria of Wednesday night and ensure his players conserve their energy so they can go at it again in Lyon.


He won't have much opportunity to work on anything new with the players, given the quick turnaround, so more than likely it will be a case of ensuring that, physically and emotionally, his players haven't already peaked.


Emotion has been the key theme in France ever since this second round tie was confirmed, with fans and journalists from both nations naturally suggesting it's an opportunity to get 'revenge' for Thierry Henry's handball that denied Ireland a fair shot at qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


Robbie Keane, in typically brash humour, dismissed such notions with the words “fucking hell,” while Martin O'Neill and others have been keen to stress that the players and the country have moved on, and this game is about creating a new history.


Yet it's an issue that seems to divide the French even today, and their spirit of fair play and bonhomie means that Henry is somewhat of a contoversial figure in France, who isn't revered as much as his contribution to French football would suggest.


Emmanuel Petit spoke to a cadre of Irish journalists – including Extratime.ie – in March, and he alluded to the shame felt by himself and many others in France at the way in which they qualified that year.


I – and other journalists at the event – assumed he was merely telling us what we wanted to hear, but judging by the press coverage in France in the last few days, it's an issue that still wrankles with many French football fans.


The front page of L'Équipe, France's daily sports newspaper, led with the headline 'L'Irelande veut sa revanche' – Ireland wants its revenge – but perhaps it's something that's more of a motivation to the French than it is the Irish.



Much as Ireland would love to exorcise the demons of Stade de France that night, so too would French football fans like to put the record straight by beating Ireland fair and square – and where better to pull it off than a tournament on home soil?

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Dave Donnelly

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