Gareth McAuley’s mood turned from disappointment to anger when he was selected for a random drugs test after scoring the own goal which saw Northern Ireland eliminated from Euro 2016 by Wales.
The West Brom defender, 36, turned Gareth Bale’s 75th-minute cross into his own net before it could reach Hal Robson-Kanu to ensure Wales made it through to the last eight in France in their first major tournament in 58 years.
McAuley looked crestfallen when he was withdrawn six minutes from time, his team-mates not knowing what to say when he sat down on the bench, but his sadness was soon replaced by rage when he discovered he could not thank the Northern Irish support in the Parc des Princes because he was due for a drugs test.
“It’s difficult tonight but I’ve enjoyed it,” he said of the tournament.
“I would have been worse if I hadn’t been dragged in for a drugs test. I went from being emotional to angry straight way because I wasn’t able to go out onto the pitch - and that is sad really.
“But there are a lot of lads in there devastated.
“I was disappointed and angry not to be able to go onto pitch with the rest of the lads but that’s the rules and I was selected to do the test. But it did make me angry.
“I would have liked to have thanked the fans for everything but that’s sod’s law.”
Although it was ultimately McAuley’s intervention that proved the difference on the night, Robson-Kanu was on hand to finish off anyway, such was the quality of Bale’s delivery.
It was a cruel blow to Michael O’Neill’s side, who performed as well as they had done since being in France, in their first ever European Championship finals.
Describing the goal, McAuley added: “Gareth Bale has got a fantastic ball into the box and I perhaps could have got a little less on it but (Robson-Kanu) was right behind me so I had to get something on it.
“Maybe when I look back on it in a few weeks it might help that the player would have scored but not at the minute.
“I’m just gutted for all the lads after all the effort they put in - but I’ll take that rather than miss a penalty!
“This tournament has been brilliant. It’s the rough with the smooth and I’ve been in the game long enough to understand that and keep it on a level keel. You never get too high, or too low.”
Although McAuley was not present to bid the fans farewell on the pitch, he expressed regret that their journey had ended too.
“I’m gutted the way it’s ended but worse things happen in life,” he said.
“I’m just gutted everyone has to go home - if they even do go home!”
Michael O’Neill refused to blame McAuley and urged the West Brom defender to extend his international career.
“It’s the nature of football,’ said O’Neill. “I’m not going to point the finger at him. He had a split second decision to make and unfortunately it went against us. It’s a very, very cruel way to lose a game, and I don’t think we deserved to lose it. Hopefully he continues to play at international level. I want him to continue.”