Shane Long by-passed hero status and moved straight to an elevated plain reserved for sporting legends last night as the Republic of Ireland shocked world champions Germany.
Long struck a second-half winner on a Euro 2016 night of high drama at the Aviva Stadium to guarantee Martin O’Neill the minimum of a play-off for the championship finals in France next summer.
A late Polish equaliser in Glasgow eliminated Scotland, Ireland’s rivals for a play-off slot, and set up a straight head-to-head in Warsaw on Sunday between Poland and the Republic for the prize of automatic qualification for the finals.
With Ireland facing France at the Rugby World Cup, the win has ensured that the inevitable ‘Super Sunday’ moniker is, for once, justified.
O’Neill described last night’s victory as “historic”. Certainly it was Irish football’s biggest night at Lansdowne Road for 14 years, when a Jason McAteer goal in September 2001 defeated Louis van Gaal’s Holland in a World Cup qualifier.
More than 50,000 fans last night dusted down the ‘Ole Ole Ole’ chants that made Republic supporters a global phenomenon in the Jack Charlton era, reawakening the famed Lansdowne roar at the 34th attempt since the stadium revamp.
Goal-scoring hero Long has enjoyed sustained support from the terraces, and there were groans again last night when word filtered through that he was to start on the bench. But, just as he did at home to the Poles earlier in the group, the Tipperary man delivered when it mattered for the Republic.
Ireland must beat Poland on Sunday to guarantee automatic qualification for Euro 2016. A draw or Polish win would would keep the Boys in Green in third and facing a two-legged play-off against yet-to-be determined opposition in the middle of November.
It was a huge night, too, for Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland, who guaranteed qualification for a first major finals since the 1986 World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Greece at Windsor Park.
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