Martin O'Neill delighted to see the Republic of Ireland dream become reality
Martin O'Neill has admitted he never allowed himself to dream of taking the Republic of Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals until it became a reality.
The 63-year-old celebrated two years in his job by steering the Republic past Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate as a tense play-off drew to a conclusion in Dublin on Monday evening.
But O'Neill said: "I never once dared to dream about getting to France, never once because of the group that we were involved in, so that was special. The night was special as well.
"I thought the Germany night last month was just wonderful, but I think it was eclipsed tonight. The atmosphere was fantastic. These are the nights that you live for.
"That moment when the referee blows the whistle and you are in France, it is just very, very special, very special indeed.
"It's more special because it means so much to a lot of people, naturally the players first and foremost, but to the nation as a whole, the crowd that we will bring to France - and they have graced other tournaments when we have qualified - and it is really special.
"I was speaking to Richard Keogh and they are just indescribable feelings. It's great for some of the lads who have not made it [before] - Seamus Coleman, who is a top-class player, an absolutely top-class player - and for some of the older members, who are roughly the same age as myself.
"It certainly will be the last tournament that they are involved in, so I am just pleased for everyone."
Ireland secured their passage courtesy of a 2-0 win on the night to send the Aviva Stadium into raptures.
They were set on their way by Jonathan Walters' nerveless 24th-minute penalty, although Bosnia were furious at its award and with some justification as Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers harshly ruled that defender Ervin Zukanovic had handled Daryl Murphy's cross.
But both the game and the tie remained in the balance until Walters volleyed home from Robbie Brady's 70th-minute free-kick to cement the win.
O'Neill said: "Walters has had a tournament to remember. He has been fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We have had a number of really decent performers consistently - I think he has been exceptional."
There was a special word too for assistant manager Roy Keane and the role he has played in qualification.
O'Neill said: "I have had to make some big decisions for players during the natural course of management, but the biggest decision was bringing Roy Keane in and he has been absolutely phenomenal, phenomenal.
"I couldn't be more delighted with him. He's an iconic figure - sometimes he polarises opinion, certainly not in the dressing room - and we are all delighted with him."
Bosnia boss Mehmed Bazdarevic was understandably disappointed by the outcome, and made his feelings over the penalty decision abundantly clear.
He said: "I don't want to speak too much about that because it could have consequences, but the referee had a terrible night. He was the worst on the pitch.
"First of all, it's very hard to speak about this because because we are aware of what we have lost in these two matches.
"The team did very well and had more opportunities. We tried to answer the Irish players with the correct mind of an aggressive game and we did our best.
"I'm very disappointed about the game. We lost and unfortunately, it's very hard for me to speak about it. I feel sorry for the supporters that we are not going to France."