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Hungary victory a turning point for Ireland says Smallbone



Hungary victory a turning point for Ireland says Smallbone

Since that 3-0 Nations League win over Scotland in June 2022, Ireland’s only wins have come against opposition like Gibraltar (twice), Armenia, Latvia and Malta, and despite Euro 2024-bound Hungary arriving to Dublin unbeaten in their previous 14 games, Troy Parrott’s 92nd-minute winner clinched the side’s first significant victory for some time, as John O’Shea won his first match as interim boss.

After disappointing qualification campaigns for the 2022 World Cup and this year’s European Championship, Southampton’s Smallbone (24) believes the Lansdowne Road win is a step in the right direction in getting the Boys in Green back to where they belong.

“We probably played like we did against Hungary, or played better, and lost. Maybe it was a mentality shift,” said Smallbone after the victory, who also picked up Player of the Match in the first of the two June games, with a clash against Portugal to come next Tuesday in Aveiro.

“I think it was important that we got a win against a good nation. Hungary, going to the Euros, are a very good team to get that against. John (O’Shea) was saying they were unbeaten in 14, so to stop their run and do it at home with the Irish fans is very special.

“We have always had an internal belief, but I think externally we need to prove to ourselves and a lot of people that we can beat the bigger nations and get ourselves back up to where we belong. I think Tuesday was a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Asked if Ireland’s most significant win for some time feels like a turning point, Smallbone replied: 100pc. I think we’ve got such a young squad and some are playing all around Europe now.

“It probably wasn’t our best performance, but it was important to get a win against a top nation going to the Euros.

“I think we’re coming together at a good time and to get a win against Hungary is a very big positive. I’m looking forward to the future and long may it continue.”

Question marks still remain over O’Shea’s prospects of assuming the permanent role, with the FAI’s search for Stephen Kenny’s replacement now past the six month mark, but Smallbone hailed the former Manchester United defender’s qualities having also worked with him at U-21 level and at Stoke City.

“I can’t thank John enough for everything he’s done for me throughout my short career so far, and hopefully for a long time to come,” said Smallbone, who helped the Saints to promotion to the Premier League after last month’s play-off final win.

“I’m really happy for him to get the win. I think he set us up really well and you can see his qualities as a manager coming to fruition now.

“I’ve loved working with John from the U-21s to Stoke and now, Ireland. It’s gone full circle. I think he’s brought a very positive view on things to the camp. Whenever I see him around the place or on the training pitch he’s always drip feeding me bits of information that I’ve taken on. It’s been very key to me having a good season this season and carrying it into this camp.”

Up next for the Boys in Green is an away date against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, who are also preparing for Euro 2024, and it’s a test Smallbone is relishing.

“It’s another big test but what a game to have,” he smiled. “They’re going to be going into the Euros as one of the favourites. I think we can put in a good performance out there and really see where we are at in terms of international level.”

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