Ireland 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina: What a night to be Irish

Ireland 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina: What a night to be Irish

SO THERE it is, it’s official - we are off to France next summer. After a campaign of ups and downs, Martin O’Neill's men have lifted an entire nation and kept a dream alive for both young and old.

Automatic qualification would have been the best way to do it but, now that it’s over and done with, I must admit I wouldn’t of had it any other way. Our performance on Friday (from what we could see of it!) didn’t fill me with too much hope, but with an away goal I felt the play-off was ours to lose.

Having supported Celtic through O’Neill's time there, I am well aware of how he can inspire a side. With Jon Walters, Shane Long and John O’Shea all available for selection, surely Ireland could pull something spectacular out of the bag?

Just to clear up any confusion from those who watched the game on TV – before the game got underway there was a minute's silence for the victims in Paris which was interrupted by a small section of Bosnian supporters.

This was in turn met by booing from the entire Ireland section, so it was not Irish fans booing the minute's silence as such, contrary to some inaccurate reports on Twitter.

The game was to be tense and from the tackles early on Bosnia showed they weren’t willing to exit the competition without a fight. The crowd was electric and the atmosphere was unlike anything I have seen before at an international game at the Aviva. Ireland were pressing and much to my delight weren’t just sitting back and defending.

A penalty in the 24th minute after the referee blew for a handball inside the box seemed harsh on Bosnia, as the replay proved centre-half Ervin Zukanovic had his arm tight to his body. I actually think the Ref may well have believed the ball hit his opposite hand as that was waving in the air.

We all know about handballs here on the island so, rightly or wrongly, we were taking it! Jonathan Walters stepped up to the spot and with a well struck shot, Ireland were 1-0 up (2-1 on aggregate). From this goal onwards, the crowd continued in full voice. I was careful not to get too excited as this was a competition that played with all our emotions from the very start.

As the whistle went for half-time, the fans seemed confident, but it was a concern of many to see what sort of a side were to come out for the second period. The Bosnians had nothing to lose now; they had to go for it. With some reckless challenges I was surprised to see the side finish up with the same number on the pitch come the final whistle.

Bosnia went into full attacking mode at the start of the second-half. Scrabbles in the box and a few heart-attack moments ensued. O’Neill was aware of the threat posed and made a double substitution – crowd favorites James McClean and Long with just 10 minutes played in the second period.

Ireland weathered the storm and soon enough it was all us again, and I felt another goal was coming.

A free kick in the 70th minute just outside the box seen Robbie Brady whip in an inch-perfect cross. After a half-hearted clearance it fell to the the feet of Walters, and what a finish the Stoke City man produced. His second of the night – we can't underestimate how important the big man has been this campaign.

The crowd got even louder, which I didn't think was possible, and soon broke into a singsong of the Fields of Athenry. With just 20 minutes on the clock, we looked set to hold out and secure our place at Euro 2016. Bosnia had a few chances in front of goal but it just seemed it wasn’t to be their night.

UEFA 2016 European Championship Play-Off 2nd Leg, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 16/11/2015 Republic of Ireland vs Bosnia-Herzegovina Ireland supporters celebrate at the end of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer UEFA 2016 European Championship Play-Off 2nd Leg, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 16/11/2015 [©INPHO/Donall Farmer]
As the ref blew the whistle for full-time, the atmosphere went from electric to indescribable.

What a night to be Irish and what a tournament we have ahead of us next summer. After a qualifying competition that seen us basically down and out following our draw with Scotland, to then have them slip up and us to simultaneously beat the world champions, few can say we haven’t deserved it.

Yes, we got a bit of luck, but we made the most of it. It certainly isn’t a party unless us Irish are there anyway, and things could get even more interesting as England, Northern Ireland and Wales are all going to be there too. I look forward to the draw in December.

Commiserations to Scotland. But when we were paired together in the same group as Germany and Poland, one of us was always going to miss out.

Having shown the fight we have over the last few games, Ireland won’t just be there for the craic next summer – we will be there to give a good account of ourselves, and I can’t wait!