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Robbie Keane Photo by: Google images

Ireland qualify for European Championships

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Robbie Keane Photo by: Google images

The long wait is over – Ireland are back at the European Championships for the first time since 1988 and back in the big time.

Friday’s goal feast in Tallinn was followed by a rather more sobering night out in Dublin but the end result was all the same.

A packed Aviva Stadium partied late into the night as Giovanni Trapattoni’s side sealed the Euro 2012 play-off deal.

They did all the hard work in that emphatic 4-0 win against nine man Estonia in Tallinn five days earlier.

They even conceded a goal, only the second time they’ve let one past the ‘keeper in their last 11 games, but none of that mattered.

This was a night of celebration as far as Irish football was concerned.

Euro ’88 stars Packie Bonner, Paul McGrath and Mick McCarthy were all on hand to witness the coronation but they will have to step aside now – Ireland has new football heroes.

A full 10 years after the 2002 World Cup finals, an Irish team is finally back in a major tournament and even new President Michael D Higgins was on hand to wish them well.

Higgins led the applause when Wolves defender Stephen Ward turned striker to finish from just six yards in the 31st minute after ‘keeper Londak had parried a Doyle header from Duff’s corner.

Ireland had chances to cement their hold on the tie – captain Keane and Ward again both missed – but Estonia were determined to restore some pride on only their second visit to Dublin.

They did just that when captain Konstantin Vassiljev let fly with a trademark effort from 30 yard which will haunt goalkeeper Shay Given for many years to come after it slipped through his hands.

That was as good as it got for Estonia and as good as it needed to be for Ireland.

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni watched on happily as his team enjoyed a lap of honour at the end of their 90 minutes work.

They will be back at the Aviva for a big Euro send-off next summer when the Green Army will descend on Poland and the Ukraine.

The good times are back!

Rep. of Ireland: Given; O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff (Fahey 77 mins), Whelan, Andrews, Hunt (McGeady 59 mins); Doyle, Keane (Cox 66 mins).

Estonia: Londak; Jaager, Klavan, Rahn, Kruglov (Barengrub 18 mins); Lindpere, Vassiljev, Vunk, Teniste, Saag; Voskoboinikov (Purje).

Referee – Bjorn Kuipers, Holland.

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