Five things we learned as Ireland join Europe's elite in France 2016
Published 16/11/2015 | 21:48
Pack your bags! Ireland are heading to France 2016 after beating Bosnia 2-0 at the Aviva Stadium. Here's five things we gleaned from a historic night for Irish football.
1) Ireland are going to Euro 2016!
We may as well start with the obvious. Ireland have booked their place at Euro 2016 in France after a 2-0 win over Bosnia Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium. After drawing 1-1 at home with Scotland back in June, it looked like qualification had escaped Ireland but they have improved massively in the fixtures since and deserve their place.
They still don't hold onto the ball as well as they should, but they boast an almost airtight defence and a handy ability to score at crucial times that could see them cause a shock this summer.
2) Jon Walters Cements His Hero Status
Throughout this qualification campaign, Jon Walters has driven Ireland forward. Martin O'Neill has used him in different roles, both up front and wide on the left, and the Stoke attacker has delivered tireless and effective performances regardless of position.
Tonight he added two more important home goals to add to those he scored against Scotland and Georgia, and it means he will always have a special place in Irish football history. Not only did he dispatch his penalty clinically, but he did so in the face of some sledging from the Bosnian players and he also kept his nerve to volley home his second.
Walters showed great bottle and he will no doubt step up again this summer in France.
3) Ireland have ever-growing defensive options
Before last Friday's first leg in Bosnia, the prospect of taking the field without John O'Shea seemed particularly daunting. But after two solid displays from Ireland's defensive triangle of Darren Randolph, Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh, it seems now that Martin O'Neill has a defence capable of stopping some of Europe's most dynamic attacks.
Randolph has looked very composed since coming in off the bench against Germany while Keogh and Clark have combined very well over the two playoff legs. It will be welcome selection headache for Martin O'Neill when he picks his starting centre backs in France.
4) O'Neill gets his selection right
Martin O'Neill's first campaign as Ireland manager has been marked by his regular desire to throw a curveball when selecting his team. With Jon Walters back from suspension, O'Neill had a decision to make and he decided to play Robbie Brady at left back and bring Walters in for Stephen Ward. The decision paid off as Ireland made regular raids down the left wing while Walters was the two-goal hero.
Also, O'Neill has persisted in playing Daryl Murphy and the striker repaid his manager's faith by supplying the cross that was handled for the Irish penalty.
5) The manager deserves a new contract
It took until after the mid-point in this campaign, but Ireland finally seem to have an identity under Martin O'Neill - a defensively solid side who are clinical when given a chance in attack.
The performances have improved dramatically since Ireland's disappointing draw with Scotland and O'Neill can take a lot of credit for that. There is always a danger when extending a manager's contract before a tournament - how did that work out for Giovanni Trapattoni in 2012? - but O'Neill's role in Ireland renaissance deserves to be rewarded.