Mick McCarthy has hailed the performance of Conor Hourihane after he scored Ireland's match-winner in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia.

The Cork man curled a beautiful free-kick into the back of the net from 25 yards after David McGoldrick was fouled in the first half.

It proved to be the only goal of the game and ultimately sealed Ireland's place at the top of Group D as Switzerland and Denmark drew in the other game.

"Let's hope we're there at the end of proceedings," McCarthy told RTÉ Sport after the win at the Aviva Stadium.

"Who knows? Those two might cut each other's throats and let us sneak in. Let's hope that's the case."

"He's a wand of a left foot," the Irish boss added of Hourihane's display. 

"I thought he was a standout performer in Gibraltar, if there was one, he was," he joked. "Again tonight, in his runs forward with Jeff [Hendrick] - really good performances from two of them."

"They've been brilliant," he continued, "they've come in from day one and [have] committed to training. They've done everything I've asked of them.

"We got away with one on Saturday with the save, they've had a couple of chances and we could have put three or four past them to be honest. So, everything I've asked of them they've done. They're a great set of lads."

The Irish players celebrating Hourihane's goal

That crucial free-kick was delayed after the rumours of a planned tennis ball protest finally came to pass. Hourihane was forced to wait a few minutes as hundreds of balls rained down from the crowd before being removed from the pitch.

The incident certainly didn't deter the Aston Villa man, and McCarthy insisted that the protest had no adverse affects on Ireland's overall performance.

"We didn't lose concentration. Maybe it went the other way. It didn't affect us, if it had, I would have been standing here whinging about it but it didn't."

McCarthy also heaped praise on veteran player Glenn Whelan, who put in a steady shift at midfield after earning a call-up to the Ireland squad for these qualifiers under the new manager.

Ireland were unlucky not to have found the target more than once throughout the 90 minutes, and were forced to endure a nervy finish as Georgia launched a number of attacks in their search for an equaliser. 

Jaba Kankava came closest to restoring parity after slamming a long-range in the 83rd minute, and goalkeeper Darren Randolph was forced to stretch all the way as the ball crashed off the post.

"He's a good goalkeeper and that's his job to keep it out of the net," said McCarthy.

"We had lots of chances and so did they, they're a good side. They were really tricky round the box, we got away with one just before half-time. That's great but if we're talking about chances, we could have put it to bed a long time ago."