Having secured a one all draw in Zenica last Friday, the Republic of Ireland returned to the Aviva Stadium on Monday night, to attempt to finish off the job and beat Bosnia to qualify for the European Championships in France next summer. Not only had Martin O'Neill's men managed to secure a draw, they also got the all important away goal. The moment the teams flight touched down in Dublin Airport on its return journey from Bosnia,the work started to secure a result that would see Ireland through. One can only imagine what game plan Martin O'Neill and his back room staff were thinking up on the flight back to the Irish capital. Should they attack, should they hold, who should they pick in the starting eleven as a few players were available after injury and suspensions. Walters, Long and John O'Shea could return if required, the only thing was, did Martin really want to change things from Friday night.
From the moment the final whistle went on Friday night, the expectancy level went through the roof with the Irish fans, and that assured a sell out crowd, of which I was lucky to be one of, on a night when tension was in the air and the nerves jangled for every Irish supporter either watching on live TV or been inside the stadium.
"when the Republic of Ireland were awarded a first half penalty the place went mental"
Around the streets of the stadium on Monday night there was an air of excitement, fans could be overheard talking about how the evening would go, it was a mix of chit chat and straight forward enthusiasm. The big question on everyone's lips was the team selection, who would Martin put his trust in to do the job. Well all the questions were answered when the stadium announcer rolled out the Irish eleven, forty five minutes before kick off. Randolph, Coleman, Clark, Keogh, Brady, McCarthy, Whelan, Hendrick, Hoolahan, Murphy and Walters were the men selected to do the job and take the Irish to France next year.
As the teams entered the field of play the noise level rose to the point were you could not hear the person sitting in the seat beside you and when Ireland were awarded a first half penalty the place went mental. The referee was very kind to the home side on awarding the spot kick and in my opinion it was a bad decision, but who cared we were owed one for Mr.Henry and his antics in 2009. When Walters stepped up and slotted the ball home, it was the moment to believe the dream was on.
It was a strange sort of feeling as their was a long way to go, and as the Republic of Ireland protected the lead, they were sitting deeper and deeper and the Bosnians were playing a beautiful passing game to try and get back into it, and at times they were looking so dangerous. Martin could see this was happening and when he made the brave decision to take Hoolahan and Murphy off and replace them with Long and McClean you just knew this was the game changer. The out ball for the Irish to elevate the pressure been created by the Bosnians was to pump it long, causing them to to have to go backwards with the threat of Shane Long's pace. The spirit in this Irish squad is unbelievable and the players work rate won out on the night. The Bosnians could not breakdown a solid Irish defence and with Long causing no end of trouble up front, you just knew the second goal would come. When it did arrive, the man on the spot was John Walters again, this time slotting home at the back post from a corner. The stadium erupted into sheer joy, something that this country has needed for a while now, on the final whistle everyone's thoughts turned to making plans for getting to France next year and many fans were talking about camper vans and boats on the way home.
Over the whole campaign Martin O'Neill has remained positive, even when he did not get the results he wanted. He deserves to be going to the top table of European International football as he is one of the good guys of our sport. They say that good guys very rarely win, well with the spirit Martin has brought into this squad, you just do not know where this will end up.