Nathan Collins on the one that got away: ‘That’s the difference at the top level’

French goalkeeper Mike Maignan pulled off a stunning save to deny the Republic of Ireland a late equaliser in Euro 2024 qualifier

Nathan Collins had to watch a replay of it as soon as he got off the pitch. Back in the moment, he had believed his header was whizzing to the top corner of the French goal.

Everybody in the Aviva Stadium thought likewise, but Mike Maignan hadn’t read the script.

“I’ve seen it back and it’s even worse than I thought,” sighed Collins.

“I thought I’d done everything, I got as high as I could, I got power behind it, but it’s an unbelievable save, that’s the difference at the top level, it’s so frustrating, heartbroken for the lads as well.


“We know set-pieces are a big threat and we all go our different ways and we caused problems, I got a header on it but it was a fantastic save.

“There’s not much more than I can say. It is what it is.”

But it wasn’t what it could have been. A draw in those circumstances, a header in the dying seconds, would have painted this as one of those special Lansdowne nights for the Boys in Green. Ultimately though, Les Blues got away with all the swag.

“They’re so good, they’re always going to get a chance and they took it,” added Collins on France’s winning goal. “But I’m proud of the lads and the performance, there is so much to build on.

“I think it gives us a lot of belief that we can play at that level, cause problems at that level, go and give a performance we can be proud of.

“The crowd were unbelievable, it was one of the best, most passionate things I’ve ever seen in my life. It drove me so much forward, I thought we did deserve it, we caused them so many problems, I thought they were struggling to deal with us at times but that’s the quality of them, they kept a clean sheet and we didn’t.”

The goal came as a result of a stray pass across the box by Josh Cullen, with France immediately smelling blood, seizing on the mistake and arrowing home a decisive goal. However, Collins insisted this Ireland team will win and lose together, as a team.

“I don’t think we blame Josh,” he stated. “I don’t think that is right and I don’t think that is fair. There are many people who could have prevented the goal as well and there was more than half an hour left when we conceded, so we could have got back into it.

“Josh is a key player for this team, the way he holds the ball, controls midfield. There is no reason for him to be down and think it is his fault, it is a team game.

“There is a lot of frustration [in the dressingroom]. Lads are down, down and hurt. We put so much into that, the coaches are hurting, tactically think we got it spot-on, it was so frustrating. But we dust ourselves down and go again in three months.”

The Wolverhampton defender believes the level of performance against France is now the bar which they must strive to reach on every occasion they take to the pitch.

“We’ve set the standard ourselves now,” he said. “It’s on us, nobody else, only us, not the manager, not the coaches, it’s the level we set, the players have set, we’ve got to keep driving that.

“I think you have seen it so many times against the big teams, we put in performances and people are a bit shocked how good we do and how we hurt teams so much.

“But again, it is not just the big teams we need to perform against, we have to have that standard against the so-called smaller nations, who still have quality. We need to keep those standards.”

The loss now adds extra significance to Ireland’s meeting with Greece, a game that has felt even before Monday night as something of a must-win for Stephen Kenny’s men.

“I think in this group, every game is a must-win because it is so hard,” said Collins. “This was a must-win but we didn’t get the win, now we have to dust ourselves down, build from that and go again.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times