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'Last half hour seemed an eternity' – O'Neill praises 'magnificent' Republic

James McClean fires the ball into the Wales net to give the Republic victory in Cardiff

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill said he was “so proud” of his players after beating Wales 1-0 and securing a World Cup play-off spot.

James McClean struck a 57th-minute winner in Cardiff on Monday to ensure the Irish finished second in Group D.

“The players were magnificent playing away against a very good Welsh side – to win on their territory was a great result for us,” said O’Neill.

“We are in the play-offs. Whenever the draw is made we will take our chance.”

Wales, who started the game one point above the Republic, dominated the early stages but the visitors grew in confidence.

McClean smashed a half-volley beyond keeper Wayne Hennessey and O’Neill’s side easily withstood late pressure to secure a play-off place, with the draw to be made on 17 October.

The manager agreed a contract extension earlier this month which will keep him in charge of the Republic for the Euro 2020 campaign.

“I’m so proud. That last half hour seemed an eternity,” O’Neill told Sky Sports.

“We had to withstand pressure but we knew at some stage we would have to try to win the game – and we did it. The goal was worthy of winning any game.

“The impression of our campaign? Absolutely delighted. When the draw was made I thought we had a very difficult group. We have come through – fantastic.”

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West Brom midfielder McClean was again a star performer for the Republic with an impressive display capped by rifling in the only goal at Cardiff City Stadium.

“The fans were unbelievable. A lot of people ruled us out and didn’t give us a chance tonight, but we went there and showed character,” said the 28-year-old.

“I remember it coming across – a great dummy by Harry Arter – and I was just thinking keep it down and when it hit the back of the net there is no better feeling in football.

“We will enjoy tonight.”

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