Miguel Delaney: Credit Martin O’Neill’s persistence for inflating this bubble

So, Ireland save the best until last.

Miguel Delaney: Credit Martin O’Neill’s persistence for inflating this bubble

It is a fitting conclusion to a qualification campaign that brings a brilliant sixth qualification, as all the finest traits of this admirable and spirited side came together to offer the most complete performance of this campaign.

That deserves huge credit, and offers huge proof for Martin O’Neill’s persistent reassurance that he was building something with this team, that there was always something bubbling away.

If a supreme competitiveness and sense of fight beyond other international sides — like Bosnia-Herzegovina — has so often kept Ireland in this campaign when they sometimes looked like they might struggle, they here added a cohesion, a collective intensity and also a finesse that basically beat the Bosnians before the game even got going.

Ireland won this tie because they kept their heads, thereby ensuring that Bosnia lost it because they lost theirs.

They got right under the skins of Mehmed Bazdarevic’s team to eventually overwhelm them.

No-one displays this more than the match-winner and by far the player of the campaign Jon Walters.

He doesn’t just fit in with the physicality but sets it, leading from the front to allow the rest of the team to do so much else behind him.

As early as the 19th minute, Walters showed what Ireland had been missing in his absence in the first leg, as he took down a Darren Randolph punt.

The ball didn’t just stick to him, his footwork expertly transformed that long ball into an attack, and that was the first sign that this was to be a night when everything fitted together for Ireland.

All night, Bosnia struggled with his strength and bustle.

It was a similar force of will from Daryl Murphy that brought the otherwise fortuitous penalty, but Walters showed the focus that maximised that luck, as well as the finesse he doesn’t always get the credit for.

Up against a goalkeeper who would have known him well in former Stoke City team-mate Asmir Begovic, Walters outwitted the current Chelsea number one by rolling the ball into the corner.

The winning goal was then the crowning glory, the moment at which it all came together, displaying everything this team has done so well.

First, Walters held off the manic Emir Spahic to win a free-kick. Then, Robbie Brady finally offered the sort of fine set-piece we know he should do more often, that are so often productive when they come.

Finally, Walters stood up and provided a mix of power and precision to beat Begovic for a final, decisive time.

It wasn’t all about the Stoke striker though. He just led the line and led by example, but it is significant that so many other Irish players offered some of their best performances when it mattered most.

Glenn Whelan was excellent and so often broke up Bosnian possession rather than offering it to them in the first leg. Impressive character to stand up like that.

Alongside him, McCarthy offered another display that indicated his performance against Germany may be a sign of things to come, of a more assured player.

He so often got in amongst the Bosnian midfield, with a magnificent sliding tackle in the 67th minute crucially ending what could have been a killer counter-attack.

That may well have been the key moment of the game. Rather than potentially concede, Ireland went and scored the second.

Of course, at this point, no-one should second-guess that Irish defence.

They have been the foundation of this qualification as much as Walters has been the finishing touch.

Despite so many different backlines, which were so often patched together, and rarely saw a regular four play together, Ireland only conceded more than one goal in a game once, away to Poland.

That match saw Robert Lewandowski score the winner but, in a wider context, that is absolutely no shame and it was probably inevitable that at least one of the best attackers in the world as going to get one or two given the galaxy of stars we came up against. Ireland had already frustrated Lewandowski in Dublin, and did the same to Thomas Muller and now Edin Dzeko again.

There was no frustration for Ireland. There was only a team that came to fruition.

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