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Saturday 10 December 2016

I must take my hat off to O'Neill

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane celebrates with Robbie Brady after Jonathan Walters scored his side’s second goal
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane celebrates with Robbie Brady after Jonathan Walters scored his side’s second goal

What a great night. The right team, the right approach and Ireland have made it to France.

Bosnia never turned up but to be fair to Martin O'Neill and his players, this was an excellent, disciplined and committed performance from the team and they deserve to qualify.

I have to say, just a few short months ago, I couldn't see any way that Ireland would make it to France but O'Neill has pulled off a notable success with this and one not many felt he could achieve.

This win and most of the good football we've seen throughout the campaign came when O'Neill gave Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady some licence to attack and bring their skills to bear.

I was glad to see Hoolahan was played from the start last night because it immediately told the Bosnians that Ireland were there to play.

I was a bit worried that with Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy in the team, the temptation would be to hit the ball long and while there as a bit of that at the start, I thought Ireland settled well and began to pass well as the game game unfolded.

The foundation for the win and indeed for this qualification came from the back.

Ireland's defence was top class again and all but snuffed Bosnia's best efforts out.

Edin Dezko only had a couple of chances and he was very well marshalled by Richard Keogh and Ciarán Clark.

In midfield we were solid and with Hoolahan anxious at all times to get on the ball, Bosnia had much more to think about defensively themselves than they had on home turf in Zenica.

My man of the match was the obvious one, Jon Walters.

He's a fantastic example of how wholehearted and honest application can bring huge rewards for a player who was not gifted with the same skills as Robbie Keane but who has turned himself into a formidable player.

It was fitting that he scored the two goals even if the first from the penalty spot was very harsh on Bosnia.

That said, we've had our fair share of sorrows based around a handball in a play-off so maybe fate has balanced the ledger.

I must take my hat off to Martin O'Neill because has done a big job in the last week to get us over the line.

I admit to being confused my many of the things he has done in terms of team selection but results since August have done enough to mean that any judgement we make must be a positive one.

I think there is little doubt now that he has earned a new contract and I would expect the FAI to move quickly and offer him a new deal. He's earned it.

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