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Ireland duo aiming to go out on a high

Overwhelmed by the support they have received, Republic of Ireland pair Keith Andrews and Sean St Ledger want to give the fans "a performance they deserve" against Italy.

Keith Andrews applauds the fans after Ireland's 4-0 loss to Spain
Keith Andrews applauds the fans after Ireland's 4-0 loss to Spain ©Sportsfile

When you have lost your opening two UEFA EURO 2012 games, when, in Richard Dunne's words, "your lifelong dreams get crushed in one night", motivation can theoretically be a difficult thing. Yet when you remember your childhood, and the money saved and spent on travelling to the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States, the connection between player and fan remains strong.

Keith Andrews is now a Republic of Ireland midfielder, having been that fan in 1994, the teenager who travelled from his aunt's house in Toronto to New York to watch Ray Houghton score the most famous goal in Irish football history. He has experienced the heartache, the emotion, the joy and the pain of the man in the stands.

"That's why I don't say this lightly, I don't say it for effect, but when I say I respect the fans for all they have done for us, I mean it," said Andrews. "We're just so regretful we haven't been able to give them a performance worthy of their support."

No one can question the fans' performance, however. In Poznan, against Croatia, they created an atmosphere so electrifying that it seemed a shame a game of football had to interrupt their choral togetherness. Then, in Gdansk, as Spain went 4-0 ahead, their response was to sing 'The Fields of Athenry', a song about people parting, an appropriate soundtrack given how Ireland hopes of reaching the quarter-finals had just ended.

"Those last ten minutes will live long in my memory," said defender Sean St Ledger. "It has never been the case where we have been losing 4-0 and been clapped off – it is usually the complete opposite. And when we arrived back at the team hotel, they were there again, clapping us again. We are deeply appreciative and that is why, against Italy, we want to give them a performance they deserve, to give them something back."

There is also a desire to restore some pride. Having conceded just eight goals in 12 qualifiers, play-offs included, Ireland have leaked seven in two matches in Poland. Notwithstanding the fact that the opposition has been altogether more difficult is the belief "we haven't played as well as we can", according to Andrews. "Yes, it is difficult because we are up against three of the best ten sides in the world," continued the West Bromwich Albion FC midfielder. "But, and I'm quick to say this, we could have done better."

Honest words. And if Ireland are to do better against Italy on Monday then a quick revision of recent history may help because, under Giovanni Trapattoni, three games against the Azzurri have resulted in two draws and a victory for The Boys in Green. "They have pleasant memories for me, particularly the time I scored against them at Croke Park," said St Ledger. "Every team has a bogey side. We seem to be Italy's."