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Martin O'Neill 'proud' of his side as Ireland stand on verge of Euro 2016 qualification

The stakes couldn’t be any higher as Ireland’s day of destiny has arrived.

Ireland know what they need to book a place at Euro 2016.
Ireland know what they need to book a place at Euro 2016.
Image: Peter Morrison

THERE WERE TIMES during this campaign when hopes of qualification had faded but now Martin O’Neill stands on the verge of guiding Ireland to a major tournament at his first attempt.

More than twelve months after the quest to reach Euro 2016 started with an unconvincing win in Georgia, Ireland’s date with destiny has arrived.

Robbie Brady’s precious away goal in Zenica has given the Boys in Green a marginal advantage heading into this evening’s return leg but the tie is as delicately balanced as they come. 

A goalless draw would also be enough to send Ireland through, but another 1-1 draw would see the tie go to extra-time. A 2-2 result or higher would see Bosnia prevail courtesy of the away goals rule.

Once the full-time whistles blows, there will be scenes of undiluted joy or crushing disappointment at the Aviva Stadium. It’s a winner-takes-all showdown.

“If you said if we had to win our final game at the Aviva Stadium to qualify for France, I think most nations would have taken that as their final home game,” O’Neill says of the scenario facing his side.

“The crowd will get behind us and if we can get the atmosphere we had against Germany then that will serve us greatly.”

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Martin O'Neill O'Neill says he'll send his side out to attack on Monday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It’s been a short turnaround from Friday’s game at the Bilino Polje Stadium but Ireland have been boosted by the return of John O’Shea and Shane Long, although it remains to be seen if either are fit enough to be involved.

Jon Walters is available after serving a one-game suspension so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic and O’Neill admits it would be great to give the whole country a boost.

“It’s not about my managerial career, it’s about the Republic of Ireland trying to win a game to get to France and that would be terrific if we could do it,” he added.

“I don’t think I could put it in more simple terms, it really is that. It would be great if we could qualify, it would be a big boost for the country and if that’s the case, naturally there will be a lot of fans wanting to travel to France.

“It would be terrific if we could do it but I have to be very very mindful that we are a long way away from doing that and I need to put things in perspective.

“Bosnia are capable of scoring and can wipe out our advantage of the away goal within minutes of the game and suddenly they’re on the front foot.”

Despite the added comfort blanket of the away goal, O’Neill has insisted he won’t throw caution to the wind at Lansdowne Road. The manager believes his side would be best served fighting fire with fire on Monday evening, rather than trying to protect what they already have.

Sitting back for the 90 minutes is only inviting trouble and, according to O’Neill himself, ‘a recipe for disaster’.

There have been occasions during this campaign when disaster wasn’t far away. After conceding a two-point deficit to Scotland in the race for the play-offs with only a couple of games remaining, Ireland’s hopes began to dissolve.

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying - Play-off - First Leg - Stadion Bilino Polje Will Irish eyes be smiling tonight? Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Three games without a win threatened to derail Ireland’s bid but three straight victories over Gibraltar, Georgia and Germany turned the tables in their favour. Suddenly, the dream was alive again.

Should Ireland get over the line tonight, bringing the world champions to their knees in Dublin will be reflected on as the campaign’s defining moment.

Long’s goal has been etched into the history books and O’Neill spoke about the pride he has for his team, regardless of what happens later.

“It all boils down to the final game,” he added. “My pride in the side has been there from the start. The players have wanted to play. There was a feeling beforehand that some players just didn’t want to, just weren’t bothered playing for their country.

“I haven’t witnessed it or experienced it in the two years I’ve been here.”

With England, Northern Ireland and Wales already assured of a place in France next summer, it’s time for Ireland to join the party.

‘Camping outside our box for 90 minutes is a recipe for disaster – we have to be positive’

Long and O’Shea back in training but Martin O’Neill wary of expecting too much

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Ryan Bailey

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