Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill insists his enthusiasm has never waned as he turns his attention to the quest for Euro 2020 qualification.
The curtain fell on Ireland’s ill-fated Nations League campaign with a battling 0-0 draw in Denmark, three days after their relegation to League C had been confirmed.
It came courtesy of a resilient defensive display, but one which lacked any real creativity as their run without a goal extended to 397 minutes of football at the end of a calendar year which saw them win only one of their nine games.
However, asked if he had the enthusiasm to lead the nation into the new campaign which gets under way in March next year, a defiant O’Neill said: “Enthusiasm, as Sir Alex Ferguson once said to a group of us, is everything.
“You have to have enthusiasm and I have had it in abundance all my career both as a player and as a manager.
“I don’t think I could have had the sort of success that I’ve had if I didn’t have that enthusiasm – and it has never waned, never waned.”
The Republic have rather reverted to type since their 4-1 drubbing in Wales in September, and if they were unambitious in Aarhus, they were nothing if not dogged.
They still needed the woodwork to keep out Nicolai Jorgensen’s second-half effort and while O’Neill was pleased with his players, he acknowledged that his team remains a work in progress.
When it was put to him that defensive solidity was just a start, he said: “Of course, it’s only a start, absolutely, exactly that.
“Since the Welsh game, we have had to tighten up defensively – I think we’ve been able to do that and now we have to try to fix it at the other end.
“We were playing Denmark away from home, who are full of confidence at the moment, obviously, from their exploits at the World Cup and qualification in this little league.
“We were very, very strong defensively and we will try to be a little bit more creative going forward. But I thought we were strong tonight and the chances that Denmark had probably came of our own doing.”
If O’Neill, who handed a senior debut to 18-year-old striker Michael Obafemi as a late substitute, was a satisfied man as he left Ceres Park, opposite number Age Hareide did so scratching his head.
Asked if his side could be considered a top team after promotion to League A, Hareide said: “The funny thing is when we have more open games, when we have teams which try to attack us, it suits us better to play.
“It’s difficult when people defend low with a lot of people behind the ball, it’s difficult to break through for any team.
“We need even more quality of working together. The last third of the field is very important for us in 2019, we have to focus on that.
“But a top team? It’s not for me to judge that. It’s difficult after a game like this, a game we should win. To be a top team, we should win games like this.”