Euro 2016: Martin O'Neill's men aim to produce more iconic Irish sporting moments

By Thomas KaneBBC Sport NI
Martin O'Neill embraces Roy Keane after the Republic's Euro 2016 play-off triumph over Bosnia-Herzegovina
Many had doubts over Martin O'Neill's managerial partnership with the volatile Roy Keane
Euro 2016
Host: France Dates: 10 June to 10 July
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC TV, BBC Radio, the BBC Sport website and app. Live text commentary on every game on BBC Sport website.

Ray Houghton's header in '88. The penalty shoot-out win in Italia 90. The victory at Giants Stadium in 1994. Robbie Keane's equaliser against Germany 14 years ago... they are all iconic moments in Irish sporting history.

"No competition is the same without the Irish there, we have seen it over the years."

The above quote wasn't just a throw-away comment from veteran striker Keane at last week's pre-tournament camp in Cork. The LA Galaxy forward spoke with passion, the record goalscorer, battling back from injury, determined to end his international career in style.

Of course, there was one instantly forgettable major championships.

The Republic fans converged on Poland in huge numbers four years ago but Giovanni Trapattoni's Irish side bowed out in ignominious fashion after comprehensive defeats by Croatia, Spain and Italy.

The current crop - 10 of whom were involved at Euro 2012 - are determined to make up for that disappointment this time around.

When the much-travelled Trapattoni failed to guide Irish to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it was time for a change.

Enter a seemingly unlikely partnership of Martin O'Neill, an experienced and successful club manager, and the volatile Roy Keane, arguably the greatest Republic player of all time.

Keane Saipan saga still triggers heated debate

Roy Keane walks out of the Republic of Ireland's Saipan training camp in 2002

Keane's infamous World Cup walk-out in 2002 still triggers heated debate up and down the Emerald Isle and beyond.

In a difficult Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, one moment stood out. Shane Long's outstanding strike against world champions Germany in October left the Republic's Euro 2016 destiny in their own hands.

It took a subsequent play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina to confirm their spot in France, but the Irish were back at a major tournament.

It will be O'Neill's first finals as a manager, but the European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest did captain Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

He feels there are similarities between his current squad and Billy Bingham's group of players.

Martin O'Neill tries to keep pace with Herbert Prohaska when Northern Ireland faced Austria at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain
Martin O'Neill captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup finals

"This particular squad have shown a desire to pull themselves around. You can make a lot of the late goals [we scored in the campaign]. If you do it often enough well you then think that there must be something about it," says O'Neill.

"A desire, a sort of never-say-die spirit. You think about way back and I can draw on 1982 with that Northern Ireland squad.

"The one thing we had then was a great, great desire and spirit. Really strong with a wee bit of talent in proper positions and some really strong characters. I think that's what we now have here. But the real test is yet to come."

The tests don't come more difficult than what many consider to be Euro 2016's group of death as the Republic open up against Sweden on Monday followed by contests with highly-fancied Belgium and invariably competitive Italy.

A tough task, but O'Neill's Ireland haven't come just make up the numbers.

It is a major tournament, and it just wouldn't be the same without the Republic.

Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 Group E games
FixtureVenueDate & timeBBC coverage
v SwedenParis13 June, 17:00 BSTBBC TV, BBC Radio 5 live
v BelgiumBordeaux18 June, 14:00ITV, BBC Radio 5 live
v ItalyLille22 June, 20:00ITV, BBC Radio 5 live
Live text commentary on every game on BBC Sport website