/ Euro 2012

The Inside Track, with Tony O'Donoghue

Updated: Monday, 18 Jun 2012 12:25 | Comments

The Republic of Ireland team have one last chance to give their fans something to cheer about when they return to Poznan to face Italy on Monday night
The Republic of Ireland team have one last chance to give their fans something to cheer about when they return to Poznan to face Italy on Monday night

So now we know where we’re going next week. Home.

The European Championships are almost at an end for Ireland but there’s one more game for The Boys in Green to redeem themselves.

The players are devastated since the crushing defeat to Spain and, as one of them told me at the team base in Sopot yesterday, the last few days have been spent licking their wounds.

Defeat to the current European and World Champions Spain was hardly unexpected - most countries lose to them in competitive mode - but it was the manner of the defeat that hurt most.

For the second game in succession, Ireland’s wounds were self-inflicted.

Basic errors cost Ireland dearly and struck Ireland early against both Spain and Croatia. The mistakes were compounded by tactical ineptness.

Either the players didn’t understand the game plan or the manager didn’t make the game plan clear enough. The subsequent substitutions in both games made little impression on the outcome.

The players know they let themselves down. The country was, once again, gripped by football fever and the opportunity to become heroes was there for the taking.

But there’s more than just pride at stake on Monday against Italy.

The players spoke of salvaging something from the final group game to give the fans here in Poland and the audience back home something to really sing about.

But with the group table taking shape, and Spain and Croatia battling for top spot, the Poznan meeting of Ireland and Italy is far from a dead rubber.

Italy have to win and hope for a decisive result between Spain and Croatia, otherwise the Azzurri need a three-goal margin of victory against Ireland or they’re going home too.

With Italians Trapattoni and Tardelli, Fausto Rossi, Manuela Spinelli and Gerry Gerrosso all in the Ireland camp, it must present them with an impossible dilemma.

Their mission: achieve a result that restores credibility to Ireland, while at the same time eliminating your home nation.

But there’s more to it than that.

Every point gained at these European Championships is worth a €500, 000.

Every win is worth €1 million.

If Ireland beat Italy they would automatically leapfrog them in the group table, triggering an extra €1 million for finishing third.

That’s a couple of million riding on the result of this game alone, no small amount when you consider the financial state of the country.

That’s a fair incentive for whatever 11 Trapattoni chooses to put out against his native country.

These thoughts are running through my mind as we hurtle through beautiful Polish countryside. I’m travelling in the back of a van with the best television and satellite crew at these championships.

As voted for by you, the viewer, in an online poll.

We’re running on empty after the soul destroying, morale sapping events of the last few days.

And we’re running on empty highways, too, as the roads are eerily quiet. Right now the entire country, it seems, is gathered around television screens or in fan zones to support Polska.

Sadly, the result didn't go their way which is a pity. They brought an excitement and a spark to these, so far, wonderful championships. Good luck to them, most gracious hosts.

Sadly JJ Thompson, Will Rolfe, Darragh Hourigan, Ian McCarthy and Matt Lett will not be going on to Ukraine to bring you the further adventures of Ireland at Euro 2012.

Instead they are bringing their special kind of magic home like thousands of Irish fans across the continent.

Tony O’Donoghue is RTÉ’s soccer correspondent

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