Euro 2016
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Ireland need performances to match relentless determination

Republic of Ireland will need to reward their spirited showings with improved performances in order to reach next year’s Euro 2016 in France, after Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green dramatically snatched a late 1-1 draw with Group D leaders Poland.

The hosts, 15/8 with Coral to qualify, had to rely on Southampton striker Shane Long to keep their qualification hopes alive, as he came off the bench to grab a 91st-minute equaliser, securing Ireland a crucial point at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Long’s late leveller has kept his nation within three points of Poland, who comfortably sit at the summit of the group, and Ireland boss O’Neill was full of praise for his side’s unrelenting attitude.

“We kept going right to the end. We certainly deserved it. Our second-half performance was really fantastic. I am absolutely delighted that we are still in the competition,” said O’Neill.

Long’s last-gasp goal has given O’Neill’s men a glimmer of automatic qualification belief, with late strikes becoming a feature of Ireland’s campaign so far.

“It was a late goal in Georgia, a late goal in Germany and another one tonight (Sunday). The one thing you could never say about this team is that they lack spirit.”

Ireland’s persistent determination and spirit has always been a key quality instilled within the majority of squads throughout history and especially during O’Neill’s reign as manager so far, with the current crop of players proving they are up for the fight in every fixture, emulating courageous characteristics of Jack Charlton’s 1994 World Cup side.

However, after following up the disappointing defeat to Scotland with a home draw against Poland, results have left Ireland in fourth position and two points behind world champions Germany and their Scottish rivals.

For all of the unwavering determination shown in previous encounters to grab late results, Ireland must now transfer their stout-hearted spirit into purposeful performances in order to keep hopes alive of a place in France next summer.

Although, proceedings aren’t going all that badly, with O’Neill’s fierce presence, along with the support of former international Roy Keane, having an evident impact on the current mindset that surrounds the Ireland set-up. Since taking over from Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni, the Derry-born boss has given his side a massive boost in confidence, concentration and belief, with past performances before his takeover having frustrated and angered fans throughout the Emerald Isle.

In 2012, the Boys in Green qualified for the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, but it ended in disaster as a horror campaign was finished after just eight dismal days. The majority of the ageing players visibly underperformed and showed no fortitude for their country, instead resembling a team of players on their holidays, rather than battling in a a major tournament.

Since O’Neill and Keane arrived on the management scene, proceedings have been drastically different, with the Irish faithful witnessing a steely effort and drive in every outing, a complete contract to those three futile fixtures in the 2012 competition, where the team suffered three straight losses to Croatia, Spain and Italy and netted just a single goal.

With O’Neill’s men having narrowly stayed in contention for qualification and showing a continuous international determination, an automatic qualification place is still in sights as Ireland hope to avoid the lottery of a play-off position, with memories of previous play-off torment still deep in the memory. The Group D hopefuls are available at 25/1 to secure top spot ahead of Poland, Germany and Scotland.