/ Euro 2012

Time to say goodbye!

Updated: Monday, 18 Jun 2012 12:20

Irish fans were certainly in good voice throughout this tournament
Irish fans were certainly in good voice throughout this tournament

With any thoughts of a possible road trip to Ukraine abandoned last week, the Irish squad, fans and media will be leaving Poland on Tuesday.

The optimists among us believe something could yet be salvaged from the tournament. Could a much improved performance against Italy provide a upbeat finale to Ireland's involvement?

The pessimists fear another heavy defeat, against an Italian side with a place in the last eight in their sights, and possibly with one eye on improving their goal difference

"Heartbreaking". In one word Richard Dunne summed up Euro 2012 from an Irish perspective. As he spoke to the media in the mixed zone after training on Saturday, it was evident by his demeanour that the Aston Villa man was hurting badly.

10 years ago Dunne was part of the Irish squad at the World Cup but never got on to the pitch in any of the four games. In 2012 his chance had finally come to play in a major tournament after years of toil at the heart of the Irish defence.

No one deserved it more, his performance in the scoreless draw with Russia last year is already the stuff of legend.

Dunne spoke candidly about the feeling of frustration which followed the Croatian and Spanish defeats. He maintained there was no lack of confidence within the Irish team and seemed genuinely perplexed as to why things had, in his words, 'gone completely wrong'.

There was also the struggle to find an acceptance when an Irish team is simply beaten by superior opposition. Dunne is among a number senior players in the squad who may not wish to commit to another International campaign. That was a question for another day according to Dunne, for now his focus is fully on tonight's game.

Damien Duff, it seems, is a player who has come to a decision on that issue, but for now he's keeping it to himself. With 97 caps to his name before the tournament Duff would have hoped a Euro 2012 quarter-final place was still a target on the night of his 100th senior international apperance .

Now 33, Duff was a young winger at Blackburn Rovers when he made his debut in a friendly against the Czech Republic in 1998. Steadily he became a fan favourite and was among Ireland's goalscorers at the 2002 World Cup.

He has never been comfortable in the media spotlight and joked he was dragged 'kicking and screaming' to yesterday's press conference. Duff captains the side tonight in recogniton of the milestone, and will be a hard act to follow if he does decide his 100th cap will also be his last.

James McClean, it seems, is a ready-made replacement. It would be no surprise to see Giovanni Trapattoni make that switch late in the game tonight, to give Duff an appropriate stage to make his final farewell.

While a lot of the Irish fans were hoping for a number of changes for tonight's game, Trapattoni has made just the one, with Kevin Doyle returning for Simon Cox.

The Irish manager will relish the chance to pit his wits against Italy for a fourth time. With two draws and one defeat from the previous meetings, he can at least approach the game with some degree of confidence.

Cesare Prandelli has rebuilt the Italian side since taking over from Marcello Lippi after the last World Cup. There are still a number of senior players involved, most notably Gianluigi Buffon, Danielle De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo.

The cameras were fixed firmly on the enigmatic Mario Balotelli on his arrival at training last night. The Manchester City striker headed straight to the dugout, however, and could miss out with a knee injury. He has been substituted in both of Italy's Group C games to date and may lose out regardless of the injury, with Antonio Di Natale in the wings.

Prandelli's approach is a little less conservative and defensive than tradition would suggest of an Italian national team. As a player Prandelli won a European Cup medal under Trapattoni at Juventus.

The Irish fans are planning to lift the roof at Poznan's Municipal Stadium tonight, if the team don't concede in the opening four minutes. There's no doubt the two early goals conceded against Croatia and Spain deflated the team on both occassions.

The supporters we met in a camper van site on the outskirts of Poznan yesterday hadn't lost their optimism or their sense of humour. 'All the way to Poland - and we never touched the ball' was a newly composed chant.

On a personal note Euro 2012 was my first experience of covering a major tournament. It's been a huge privilege and a real learning curve. I'd like to say a big thank you to the RTÉ team here in Poland and back in Dublin, and to all the fans we spoke to on the streets of Sopot, Gdansk and Poznan.

Hopefully we'll all get the chance to do it again in the summer of 2014 in Brazil.

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