David O'Leary predicts Ireland will be tough to beat but will exit Euro 2012 at the group stage

The penalty shootout hero of Italia '90 hailed the improvements Giovanni Trapattoni has made to the team but doesn't see his country going very far this summer
By Rob Stewart

Ireland legend David O'Leary believes that the Boys in Green will be tough to beat at Euro 2012 but fears a group stage elimination is likely for them.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side will take on holders Spain, Italy and Croatia in Group C and O'Leary suggests they have their work cut out to progress.

"They will make life difficult for their opponents and if they do manage to get out of that group that will be an unbelievable bonus," O'Leary told Goal.com.

"They will just go there and do the best they can. I don’t see them coming out of that group, that will be like winning the Euros for them."

O'Leary, who earned 68 caps for Ireland, was not a member of Jack Charlton's squad when the Boys in Greeen last reached a European Championship in 1988. He was included in the squad for Italia '90 and famously converted the winning penalty against Romania in the second round to lead Ireland to the World Cup quarter-finals.

The former Leeds United manager expects Ireland to be tight at the back after racking up an unbeaten record of 14 games, including 11 clean sheets, in the run up to the finals.

"The key factor for Ireland will be not to concede goals. It is as simple as that," said the 54-year old.

"They are not a team that will give teams a good hammering. Their big strength is that they have a great old Italian manager who plays a defensive mode and is able to get the best out of what he has got with his style of play."

O'Leary also took time to praise the Irish supporters who are expect to arrive in Poland en masse for the nation's three group games in their first major tournament in a decade.

"The one great thing is that the supporters will be there," he added.

"They have been missing for the big tournaments for the last few years and so they will make a welcome return. They don’t half do a lot for the atmosphere at these major tournaments and that will be great all round.

"I am delighted for the fans that they will be there because they are very loyal. They always get behind their team whatever the circumstances so that is fantastic."