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Published: 16:29 | 26/6/16

O'Neill: Players came of age in France

Martin O'Neill believes that his Republic of Ireland players have "come of age" during Euro 2016 but can't shake the feeling that they could have knocked out hosts France.

Ireland had the perfect start when Robbie Brady confidently slotted home a spot-kick after Paul Pogba had fouled Shane Long.

The hosts came out flying after the break and the game was turned on its head when Antoine Griezmann equalised on 58 minutes before he took advantage of sloppy defending to fire France ahead three minutes later.

Shane Duffy's dismissal for a professional foul moments after gave Ireland a mountain climb and despite their valiant efforts they could not muster a leveller to force the game into extra time.

O'Neill however, was full of praise for his players.

“There are a number of players there who have come of age,” he said. “They feel like they belong at this level and they played like they belong.

“France are a fine side and as you get closer to the end of a competition the very best teams come through.

"It was a splendid effort and I know from my own days as a player way back that it’s tough to win competitions.

“I thought for a few glorious minutes that we could win the game today.

We’ve gotten off to a really great start when we got the penalty decision. They’re a decent side who can play a bit, but I thought we’d be able to play a small bit on their nervousness as hosts.

“We needed another seven or eight minutes in the second half to see it out. They put us on the back-foot, as you would expect. They scored the goal which has given them momentum and at one-each we lost a bit of concentration in the game.

“We knew that they’d come on to us, the fellow coming on from Bayern Munich (Coman) is obviously a decent player, but we were very comfortable in the second half and still thought we’d win the game.

“It was a bit disappointing that when we had the ball we gave it away so cheaply.

“There was still time to get something out of the game. We had that chance when James (McLean) has outrun heir centre-half when he pulls the ball back, but on those things games hang.

“It was a difficult game, but the players put everything into all of the games. We took a bit of time in the dressing room afterwards because they didn’t have any energy left.

“It was a great effort by the team and the supporters and I’m really sorry we couldn’t see this one through.”

Shane Coleman meanwhile felt that Ireland had missed a chance to cause a big upset and paid tribute to the travelling support.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We felt like it was there for us.

“We gave our all in the tournament and we’re just so disappointed at the minute. That shows how well we’ve done that we’re disappointed with getting beaten.

“It just felt like it was there for us.

“Our fans are unbelievable and we were all hoping that we could go a bit further for them.

“We hope we did them proud because they’re amazing and everyone at home is amazing with their support.

“Everyone made a big deal about the ticket allocation and we only had a little corner of the ground, but they were so loud and they were so positive to us when we went over to them at the end.

“There is a special bond between the players and the fans.”

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