Wes Hoolahan eyeing second tournament trip after strong start in qualifying
Wes Hoolahan is targeting a trip to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia after having his appetite whetted by the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 adventure.
Martin O'Neill's men made it to the last 16 in France and gave the hosts a run for their money before bowing out of the competition and 34-year-old Hoolahan, one of the stars of that campaign, is hungry for more.
He and his team-mates cemented an encouraging start to their qualification bid when they took their Group D points tally to seven from a possible nine with a 3-1 victory in Moldova, hours after rivals Wales could only draw at home to Georgia.
Hoolahan said: "It's a great start. There are going to be disappointments in the group at some stage - you see Wales drawing with Georgia tonight. It's going to be a difficult group, but at the moment it's good.
"The experience we had in France and getting out of the group stage and doing so well, we are looking forward to hopefully getting out of this group, which is a tough group, and qualifying for the World Cup."
Hoolahan played a key role in setting the ball rolling for the Republic at the Stadionul Zimbru when, with just 116 seconds on the clock, he slid a perfectly-weighted pass into Shane Long's run and saw the striker end an 18-game drought for club and country in confident style.
Striker Igor Bugaev stunned the visitors by pouncing on defensive laxity to level on the stroke of half-time, but James McClean's double after the break proved decisive.
Norwich playmaker Hoolahan, who was a frustrated spectator against Georgia on Thursday evening, much to the disgust of O'Neill's most vociferous critics, said: "It's nice to play for your country, it's always an honour.
"To run out there in the green is brilliant and to get involved in the first goal. But the most important thing is the three points. The last two games, six points is a good tally."
Victory was achieved without key players Jeff Hendrick, who was suspended, and Robbie Brady, ruled out after suffering concussion three days earlier, and both will hope to return when the focus switches to Vienna and a potentially pivotal clash with Austria next month.
Hoolahan said: "We have got a big squad of players, all very talented. Robbie and Jeff are young boys who have got a lot of talent, but we did well tonight and hopefully we will continue that.
"It [Moldova] is a difficult place to come, but we managed to get the three points, which is the most important thing.
"We started the game really well and could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up before they got the goal before half-time. We had a few words at half-time saying we needed to be better and in the second half, and we came out and got the two goals."