Duff delighted to reclaim limelight from rugby stars
THEY have watched their counterparts in other sports claim the plaudits with their heroic exploits, but last night the Irish football team finally stepped back into the limelight.
Damien Duff hinted at the degree of envy with which the football team watched Brian O'Driscoll and the rugby team claim their place in the nation's hearts, but in front of 51,151 fans at Lansdowne Road they took centre stage once again by qualifying for Euro 2012 with a 5-1 aggregate win over Estonia.
"It's about time we gave the football fans something to cheer about," Duff said. "It has been all about the rugby boys for a while, so it's their (soccer fans) turn now.
"It's an amazing feeling, it means more than 2002 for a few of us because time is running out a bit. So you appreciate it more. I missed Tehran, so it's nice to be involved and win a play-off at home."
Goalkeeper Shay Given believes Ireland can now go on and achieve something special in Poland and Ukraine.
"We've proven against big teams, we don't fear anyone," the Aston Villa man said after winning his 119th cap.
"No one will want to get us in the group. We'll just want to build on this qualification and take the next step.
"We're really happy -- it's been a long 16 months. To finish it here in Dublin is very special. It has been tough times in the country, and we're just happy to give everybody a bit of a wee lift for a few weeks, a few months.
"It has been a long time in coming, nearly 25 years since the last Europeans, 10 since the last major championships. The fans deserve it. It is very historic for the lads and the manager. We've made a bit of history, not just tonight but over the last 16 months of hard work, and it is great to come here and finish it off."
Robbie Keane added it was a special moment to seal qualification in Dublin.
"Look at the crowd here -- I think that says it all," said Keane. "It's a great night for everyone -- the fans, the players -- it's a night that we'll never forget.
"Full credit to everyone who's involved in the squad. This is why we play football, for situations like this."
Glenn Whelan was a proud Dubliner after his Man of the Match display in front of the capacity crowd. "Unbelievable," he said. "It was a dream for me just to get involved and get my first cap, but now to possibly play in a European Championships, it's fantastic.
"The match was a bit of an anti-climax all right, but we had to be professional. This was what we set out to do before the campaign started. Now we've got there, possibly the hard way, but we got there."
Whelan finished the campaign as an ever-present starter in midfield, and justified the faith of Giovanni Trapattoni.
Now he looks forward to the next challenge in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.
"The supporters came out in their numbers tonight. I've always said we got to give them something to shout about and we've done that," he said.
"Now we have work to do to make sure we give teams hard games over there and hopefully get out of the group."
Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne said sealing qualification to the finals ranked as his finest moment in the game.
"It's the best experience I've probably had in football," he said.
"We've walked around Lansdowne Road a few times with nothing to show for it at the end of campaigns, so to qualify here I think is special for everyone.
"Everybody wants to play in a major tournament and now to have the opportunity is going to be great."