With some of the most impressive and fun fans in all of Europe, the Republic of Ireland come into the Euros ready to make some noise and have some fun.
Drawn into Group E, they will face Sweden, Belgium and Italy in their matches which is a tall order. Many neutrals will be hoping that even if the on-pitch results are not there, the vocal supporters can replicate their efforts of four years ago where they stole the show during the group stages.
Pitted in a tough group with Germany, the Republic of Ireland managed to finish third in Group D of qualifying to earn a spot in the playoffs, and sprung a mild upset over Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was an up and down campaign where they were involved in a three team tussle with Poland and Scotland to finish behind Germany in the group.
At home they were good enough, beating Georgia, Gibraltar and Germany and drawing with Poland and Scotland. Away from home they managed to do the expected by beating Georgia and Gibraltar, but they lost to Poland and Scotland. It was a critical draw away to Germany, combined with the victory in Dublin, that helped secure third place in the group. In the playoffs they drew 1-1 in Zenica before a double from John Walters in the second leg booked them a place in France.
This will be the third European appearance for Ireland having made it in 1988 and 2012. The 1988 tournament had the highlight of beating England 1-0 to get their debut off to a flying start. Unfortunately a draw with the Soviet Union and a loss to the Netherlands sent them home after the group stage.
Under the stewardship of Giovanni Trappatoni they made the 2012 tournament and were grouped with Spain, Italy and Croatia. While the team on the pitch lost all three games, the fans stole the show with an impassioned display in each of the three matches, in particular singing while down 4-0 to eventual champions Spain. Of course the hope is that this time they will have a few more victories on the scoreboard instead of moral ones off the pitch.
Ireland’s strength lies in their consistency across the board, no one player stands out head and shoulders above the others. In most positions if one player goes down, there is another player who can step in with a minimal drop off. With Martin O’Neill in charge he can get this team organised and in a position to be competitive in each of their games, as demonstrated by their positive results against Germany in qualifying.
Their best player might be winger Aidan McGeady who never quite reached the heights that were once predicted for him but is still capable of producing a moment of quality occasionally. If you look at the side, the majority are playing for well-known English sides such as Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy at Everton or Robbie Brady at Norwich. They have some players capable of performing at a Premier League level and they will be the ones that O’Neill will be counting on to lead the team.
While their team unity is considered a strength, it also means that they do not have a recognised game breaker in their side, like many of the tournament favourites do. Unlike club football, Ireland cannot simply go out and buy a Ronaldo or a Messi and they just have to make do with what they have. From a talent perspective they are a step below the top contenders and will have to produce a team performance beyond their individual abilities.
Predicted finish – Group stage
Ireland currently sit third in the group with zero matches played thanks to their alphabetical superiority over Sweden. It is hard to see them putting together three performances back to back that will get them out of a tough group. While they should be able to provide a scare to a team not on their day, it appears as though the fans will be supporting their team for only three matches this time around.