Martin O’Neill ‘couldn’t be more proud’ as Stoke’s Jon Walters fires Ireland to Euro 2016

Martin O’Neill praised his side’s fighting spirit after leading Ireland to the European Championship Finals.

The Ireland manager was beaming after the 2-0 play-off victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina gave his team a 3-1 aggregate win to book a spot in next summer’s Euro 2016 Finals in France.

A goal in each half from Stoke City forward Jon Walters was the difference between the sides on the night, but O’Neill praised his side’s efforts over the whole campaign, not least since they were almost written off in June when they could only draw 1-1 with Scotland in Dublin.

Since then Ireland beat Gibraltar, Georgia and World Champions Germany to earn third place in Group D, and finished the job off with Monday night’s resounding victory at Lansdowne Road.

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“I couldn’t be more proud,” O’Neill said. “They are a fantastic bunch of players who wanted to play for their country, which is very important.

“They have given everything and I don’t think they had anything left to give.

“After the Scotland game here, which we probably should have won, it put us on the back foot with four games left but it was still in our hands.

“We sat in this very room and said it was still in our hands. It meant we had to go and win the two games in quick succession, Gibraltar and Georgia, and probably win one of the last two games.

“It was a tall order but it was never beyond them.

“Shane Long’s goal against Germany gave us the opportunity to play Bosnia and we never gave up.”

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By qualifying in his first campaign in charge, O’Neill became only the fourth Ireland manager to reach a major tournament, but he refused to bask in the glory, instead putting all the focus on his players.

“It isn’t (about me), the game is about players and I am absolutely delighted for myself naturally, rather selfishly, but I’m thrilled for the players because they have put their heart and soul into the games,” he said.

“This is exactly what you’re in football for. That moment when the referee blows the whistle and you’re in France. It is just very special indeed.

“I think it is more special because it means so much to so many people — to the players first and foremost and to the nation as a whole.

“The crowd that we will bring to France have graced other tournaments when we qualified and it is really special.”

Bosnia manager Mehmed Bazdarevic was unhappy with the performance of referee Bjorn Kuipers, who awarded a first half penalty against the visitors, and claimed his men lacked luck at crucial times.

“The team that beat us played very well and had more chances,” he said. “We played as well as we could, and we tried to match the Irish players in an aggressive game.

“We did our best. I’m very disappointed about the game. I feel sorry for the fans.

“I won’t speak about (the referee) as it would have consequences, but I would like to say the referee did not do his job properly in this game.

“During the qualification it was very difficult for us,” he added. “We had a few players injured and a few cards, but in the beginning maybe did not have enough luck, and in the end we did not have enough luck.”



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