Two strikes inside three minutes sank a brave Irish campaign in the Euro 2016 championship and put the host team into the quarter-finals in Lyon this afternoon.
Ireland ended the game down to 10 men after central defender Shane Duffy was dismissed for a foul on French striker Antoine Griezmann, who had already scored twice and was clear through for a third.
It took almost for an hour for the Frenchg to overcome an Ireland lead taken through a nerveless penalty by Robbie Brady, awarded after a clumsy challenge on Shane Long.
Amid the heat and humidity of a warm French summer’s day, Martin O’Neill’s men were also suffering the effects of victory against Italy on Wednesday night, while the French had completed their group-stage matches three days earlier.
The heroics in Lille clearly took their toll on the 10 men as France attacked in waves throughout the closing stages, and Ireland’s chances of forcing extra time were rare.
The word beforehand was that if Ireland were to go out they would do so with a bang rather than a whimper and there was no faulting the players’ effort. But for the last half an hour, they were running almost entirely on empty.
Those fans lucky enough to get tickets willed them to add to the opening goal but France’s 60 per cent possession and 10 shots on target to Ireland’s was an indication of the balance of play. Ireland lost fair and square but they did so while giving their all for what would have been another famous victory, and no one asked more than that.
Manager Martin O’Neill didn’t attempt to mitigate the loss by invoking the disadvantages the team were contending with, but lamented the three minute period in which Griezmann twice found the net.
“We got off to a really great start, we got the penalty deservedly so. I thought we could play into the bit of nervousness from them, and so it seemed.
“I know we grasp at these particular things but with those seven or eight minutes in the second half, if we could just see it out.
“They’d put us on the back foot which you would expect, they scored the goal that has given them the momentum. And, even then, at one each, we just lost a little bit of concentration in the game which is very, very important for us.”
O’Neill praised his players and thanked the Irish supporters while apologising for the unfavourable result.
“What was a wee bit disappointing was when we had it, we just gave it away a little bit too cheaply. It was a difficult game, I must admit but, physically, the players gave absolutely everything, as they did over all the games.
“We just took a little bit of time in the dressing room because they didn’t have anything else to give. It was a brilliant effort from the team and the supporters and I’m really sorry that we couldn’t see it through.”