Ireland start the party after 10 years of hurt

Republic of Ireland 1 Estonia 1 (Republic of Ireland win 5-1 on aggregate)

Two years ago Richard Dunne was sat, crestfallen, on the pitch in Paris. Next to him was Thierry Henry, whose handball had just sent France through to the World Cup. Last night in Dublin, Dunne was jubilant at the final whistle, as a draw with Estonia sent the Republic of Ireland to their first tournament in 10 years. "It's the best experience I've probably had in football," he said. "We've walked around Lansdowne Road a few times with nothing to show for it at the end of campaigns, so to qualify here I think is special for everyone."

For Giovanni Trapattoni, taking Ireland to their first European Championship in a quarter of a century is equivalent to his greatest managerial triumphs. "Qualifying after 25 years is like a big trophy," he said, before attributing it to the team's reaction to that defeat in Paris. "The team improved and they believed what we asked from them. After losing to France in the playoff, the team understood our philosophy and our system."

With a 4-0 lead from the first leg, the celebrations began early. Michael D Higgins, the newly elected president of Ireland, was presented to the players before kick-off but it was not immediately clear who was congratulating whom.

The 90 minutes themselves were not fiercely contested. Goalkeeper Shay Given agreed that the feeling was strange. "It was a little bit, and for the crowd, because we were four goals ahead from the first leg and then five in the first half," he said. "But we're just going to enjoy the atmosphere now."

The Republic were quite clearly buoyed by the occasion. There was none of the inhibition which often characterises their performances, even at home. Rather, the midfield passed and moved intricately from the start, relishing the space afforded to them by their visitors.

Within five minutes, Robbie Keane came close to scoring a reassuring goal. Stephen Hunt pulled a wide free-kick back to Damien Duff, whose low shot was generously palmed back out by Pavel Londak. Keane was in the right place, but shot wide.

Half an hour in, just when the stadium was feeling its first tingles of desire for a goal, Hunt provided them with one. His corner was headed goalwards by Kevin Doyle, and Londak repeated his same palm-out as before. Ireland were too polite to turn down the same favour twice, and Stephen Ward scored. Even given the first-leg lead, this was the final layer of comfort the Aviva Stadium needed.

Estonia now required five unanswered away goals to deny Irish participation in the European Championship. The fans breathed in, and sung out "The Fields of Athenry" in celebration.

With a 5-0 aggregate lead, Ireland could settle into a controlled second-half performance, with Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews happy to pass it among themselves.

After 12 minutes of the second period, there was even enough comfort for Estonia to score a goal and for it to trouble no one. Konstantin Vassiljev shot from distance and a rare aberration from Given allowed the ball through his arms and into the net.

Keane was soon replaced, and he could go off content in the knowledge that he would be returning to tournament football 10 years after his two famous last-minute equalisers in Japan and South Korea. "It's a great night for everyone – the fans and the players," he said afterwards. "It's a night that we'll never forget. Full credit to everyone who's involved in the squad. This is why we play football, for situations like this."

Dunne, another veteran of 2002, and another man delighted to have a second bite at a major tournament now he is in the latter half of his career, headed a clever free-kick directly at Londak.

Duff, a third member of that same class, was replaced by Keith Fahey after 79 minutes of tireless harrying. Duff seemed to speak for the whole generation when he described it as "even better" than Ireland's qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, "because time is running out for a few of us, so I suppose you appreciate it more now." After the hard work, just relief and delight: every triumphant pass in the final minutes was cheered by the 51,150-strong crowd.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Duff (Fahey, 79), Whelan, Andrews, Hunt (McGeady, 59); Keane (Cox, 67), Doyle. Substitutes not used Westwood, McCarthy, O'Dea, Walters.

Estonia (5-3-2): Londak; Jaager, Rahn, Klavan, Kruglov (Puri, 18), Teniste; Vassiljev, Vunk, Lindpere (Kink, 54); Saag, Voskoboinikov (Purje, 72). Substitutes not used Kotenko, Sisov, Dmitrijev, Barengrub.

Referee B Kuipers (Netherlands).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?