Robbie Brady is having the time of his life after firing the Republic of Ireland to within touching distance of a dream trip to the Euro 2016 finals.
The Norwich midfielder’s 82nd-minute strike in Zenica looked to have handed Martin O’Neill’s men a precious first-leg victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina and a significant advantage to take into Monday’s decider at the Aviva Stadium.
Edin Dzeko took the gloss off Brady’s big moment when he levelled just three minutes later, but the away goal with which Ireland emerged from their trip to the raucous Bilino Polje Stadium could yet prove decisive.
The 23-year-old said: “I can’t wait. These games are the best games I have ever experienced and to qualify would be a dream of all of ours and an opportunity that we can’t let slide.
“We’re all raring to go. Monday night, we’ll be giving it our all to make sure we do it for everyone involved.”
For all O’Neill and his players left Bosnia with smiles on their faces, they did so knowing the tie is far from over having spent most of the evening on the back foot as the home side dominated possession for long periods.
That said, goalkeeper Darren Randolph only had two saves of note to make before the game exploded into life in the closing stages.
Ireland had few chances until Brady, pushed into an attacking midfield role from the left-sided berth in which he started the game, silenced the home crowd with a moment of rare quality.
He collected the ball wide on the right after it had skidded off the head of defensive midfielder Edin Cocalic and cut inside defender Toni Sunjic before thumping a low drive past Asmir Begovic and into the bottom corner for his fourth senior international goal.
Brady said: “The centre-half missed it and I thought I had a chance of getting on the end of it, so I caught up with it and came inside and then put it back across the near side of the goalie.
“It was disappointing to concede so soon after, but it’s a good away goal and we’ll take that into Monday and hopefully go from strength to strength and go and push ourselves through to France.”
Dzeko’s equaliser, which came after Senad Lulic and substitute Ognjen Vranjes had combined down the right to set him up, ensured that the tie remains in the melting pot and that the Republic headed home slightly disappointed with a result they would have taken before kick-off.
Full-back Seamus Coleman said: “Don’t get me wrong, we have to be positive going into Monday, but we are slightly disappointed to concede so soon after scoring.
“But we would have taken that away goal if you had offered it to us before the game.