Belfast Telegraph

Goal-den boy Jonathan Walters hails Republic of Ireland heroics

By Damian Spellman

Two-goal hero Jonathan Walters paid tribute to his fellow players after the Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 with a 2-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Dublin to secure a 3-1 aggregate play-off victory.

And manager Martin O'Neill hailed his assistant Roy Keane for the part he has played in getting to the finals as the fans start to plan their trips to France next summer.

Walters scored a first-half penalty and the Stoke City striker, who then put the seal on qualification with a volley after the break, was quick to praise the team effort.

He said: "The whole team on the pitch are heroes. We got there in the end, we did it the hard way, but we got there.

"You've got to take it in because these moments don't come round often in a career."

Asked about the contribution of manager O'Neill and assistant Keane, Walters said: "They've been excellent through the whole campaign."

O'Neill's appointment of Keane as his assistant when he took the job two years ago wasn't universally popular.

The former Manchester United midfielder controversially walked out of the Republic squad just before the start of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and didn't play for his country again for two years.

Many fans couldn't overlook that, but O'Neill said the decision to bring Keane in as his assistant had more than paid off.

"Bringing Roy Keane in is as good a decision as I've made in quite some time," said O'Neill.

"He's been absolutely enormous for us.

"He's not taking too many of the accolades, but he's been fantastic for us, for myself, the backroom staff and the players."

The assistant manager says the players won't be getting carried away and he even referenced his highly controversial departure from the World Cup squad in 2002.

"We've been down this road before. As long as we're not in Saipan we're okay," joked Keane.

"We'll cross that bridge. Tonight is just about the players, to enjoy it. We'll reflect on it over the next few days.

"We obviously don't want to go over there just to make up the numbers. We'll go over there to do the country proud."

O'Neill also praised the players who have made it to Euro 2016.

"I couldn't be more proud of the players, they've been absolutely fantastic right from the start of qualifying," he added.

"The esteem that I hold these players in; it couldn't be higher."

Former Northern Ireland captain O'Neill, who won three Scottish League titles with Celtic, as well as leading Leicester City to two League Cup triumphs tried to put his achievements into context.

"This is a special night. It is very, very special, it can't be taken away from us," he said.

"When I look back I'll think this is a very, very proud moment."

Norwich City midfielder Robbie Brady, whose goal put the Republic ahead in the first leg before Bosnia equalised, provided the free-kick which led to Walters' second goal, his delivery cleared by a defender only as far as the Stoke striker at the far post.

Brady said: "It's the type of thing you grow up dreaming about. Everyone involved was excellent and we did everything we needed to and now we're off to France.

"I'm so proud of everyone involved. When things got tough I'm sure everyone involved has been through it before and we stuck together."

Derby defender Richard Keogh said: "It's an unbelievable feeling. We played really well. We got the first goal and we defended really well.

"For me to play for my country means the world to me. I've stepped up to the plate. I'm going to enjoy it."

Belfast Telegraph