Keith Andrews on Ireland's nightmare Euro 2012 campaign - Euro Memories

Ireland heroically qualified for Euro 2012 after just missing out on the 2010 World Cup, but unfortunately it would not be a pleasant experience to play in.

Keith Andrews after a 4-0 loss to Spain in Ireland's second group game at Euro 2012.
Image: Keith Andrews after the 4-0 loss to Spain in Ireland's second group game at Euro 2012

"Going into that tournament we knew we had to play our absolute best, we'd have to produce something quite special but unfortunately we didn't do that."

Euro 2012 was a special occasion for the Republic of Ireland. It ended a 10-year wait to feature in a major tournament since Mick McCarthy's side went to South Korea and Japan for the 2002 World Cup.

But it was not just the 10-year wait that was significant. Add the additional context of two years' earlier where that infamous Thierry Henry hand-ball incident extinguished any chance of them qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it made qualifying for 2012 even sweeter.

Ireland players protest Thierry Henry alleged hand-ball incident.
Image: Ireland players protest Thierry Henry's goal

"We were unlucky going back to qualifying for the World Cup in 2010 with the Henry hand-ball incident, but the squad remained together," midfielder Keith Andrews, who won 35 caps, tells Sky Sports News.

"I remember going into Euro 2012 and the excitement, what it would bring for the country, playing at a major tournament against the best players - it was a real high for me going into it, but the way the tournament panned out - it didn't really match that!"

Republic of Ireland fans during the opening match of Euro 2012 v Croatia.
Image: Republic of Ireland fans during the opening match of Euro 2012 vs Croatia

Andrews was ever-present through Ireland's 2012 qualifying campaign and when he and his team-mates saw the draw for the Euros, they could not have got a more intimidating group. They were drawn against world champions Spain, followed by Italy and Croatia.

"You have to have belief and we certainly had that," Andrews added.

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"We built up a lot of resilience as a team, we had a lot of criticism of our style of play but were very difficult to break down.

"Going into that tournament we knew we had to play our absolute best, we'd have to produce something quite special but unfortunately we didn't do that."

Ireland fell 3-1 to Croatia in their opening match. On paper, it was their best chance of getting points and Andrews reflects on that game with a twinge of regret.

"Hindsight is a beautiful thing - it was always going to be very difficult [to qualify from the group], but we earmarked the Croatia game going into the tournament.

"But the way the game went, well it proved very uphill. We conceded so early then we were chasing, then it got away from us. We never really gave a good account as well as we should have."

Next up was Spain, and needless to say it was going to be tough going up against one of the most gifted squads ever assembled at national level.

"We could've played to our absolute peak ability at that game but I think that Spanish team would've ripped us to shreds regardless, they were so good," Andrews said.

Andrews called the Spain team Ireland faced 'one of the best to play the game'.
Image: Andrews called the Spain team Ireland faced 'one of the best to play the game'

"We were chasing shadows for the vast majority of the game. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Silva - they were like wasps around you, it was very difficult.

"Looking back at it, it was great to play against one of the best teams to play the game but it was still a frustrating afternoon."

Ireland in anguish after losing 4-0 to Spain in their second group match of Euro 2012.
Image: Ireland were in anguish after losing 4-0 to Spain

Ireland lost that game 4-0 and after two tough losses they still had Italy to come, but unfortunately for Ireland and Andrews, their tournament would not get much better. Ireland fell 2-0 to the Italians in the final game and Andrews received a red card for two yellow-card offences, the second being for dissent towards Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir.

"It was just sheer frustration and anger with the whole episode. I've watched the incident back in the last year or two and I stand by it, it wasn't a second yellow card," Andrews said.

Keith Andrews sees red v Italy in Ireland's final group match of Euro 2012.
Image: Andrews sees red vs Italy in Ireland's final group match of Euro 2012

"It was just frustration from everything. It was my absolute pinnacle to play in that tournament to get to that level after dropping down the leagues then working my way back up to the Premier League.

Keith Andrews sent off in Ireland's final group game v Italy in Euro 2012.
Image: Andrews leaves the field

"We went on a journey as a group from 2010 and we stayed together and were resilient but to not quite perform where I think we were capable of even though we were past our sell-by date as a whole, I think the red card summed it up for everybody.

"I think 2012 was the end of an era for the squad. It probably came a year or two too late for the vast majority of the squad."

Hearing Andrews speak, there is sadness in his voice. The squad he talks about had the likes of Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Aiden McGeady, who were all approaching the twilight of their careers.

Robbie Keane visibly emotional after Republic of Ireland's final game against Italy in Euro 2012.
Image: Robbie Keane was visibly emotional after Republic of Ireland's final game against Italy in Euro 2012

Despite the Ireland fans singing their hearts out even when 4-0 down against Spain in Gdansk, Andrews believes the tournament will not be well remembered in the future.

"It was a lifelong dream in terms of playing in a major championship. I grew up not wanting to play for Manchester United or Liverpool - I wanted to play for my country," Andrews said.

"It's obviously nice to say you have experienced what it's like to play for your country but when you think of other tournaments we've qualified for, everyone looks at '88 or '90 or '94 under Jack Charlton and 2002 under Mick McCarthy but the one I played in, it isn't thought of in that way or well remembered."

Euro 2020 may not be taking place this summer, but Sky Sports will be bringing you exclusive interviews in our Euro Memories series throughout the month. Next up on Thursday, Keith Andrews on Republic of Ireland at Euro 2012.

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