Delighted fans start plotting their Euro 2016 adventures
BETWEEN a Rock and a lot of hard places. Ireland find themselves hemmed into a tough qualifying group for Euro 2016, with the novelty of facing Gibraltar but also the looming might of Germany.
Fans were delighted at the prospect of trips to familiar stomping grounds including Germany, Poland and Scotland.
There is even likely to be a sunny September trip to the Algarve for the Green Army, with Gibraltar expected to play their fixture against Ireland in Faro, Portugal, on Friday, September 4, 2015.
But the long road to the finals in France will begin with a gruelling trip to Georgia on Sunday September 7, the same day as the All-Ireland Hurling Final.
And it will end more than a year later with the daunting task of taking on both Germany and Poland within the space of 72 hours on Thursday, October 8, and Sunday, October 11.
With the new-look qualification process including fixtures across the week, the campaign will unusually kick-off on a Sunday for Ireland.
That match pits the boys in green against Georgia, who are still smarting over a venue switch over security concerns in the same fixture back in 2008.
Ireland will then welcome minnows Gibraltar to Dublin before turning underdogs for a huge match against Germany in early October.
Super fan Davy Keogh, who has draped his famous 'Davy Keogh Says Hello' flag over terraces worldwide, is planning to attend every game.
"We're on the internet at the moment trying to book all the flights," he said last night.
"I'll do the whole lot. I've been going to home games since 1966 and my first away trip was Holland in 1979 . . . never looked back.
"Georgia is a long haul, and I didn't want Poland again because I've been there . . . but it could be Warsaw this time, not Poznan."
The 54-year-old Dubliner uses the "old reliable" of his local credit union to help finance his trips.
"When the woman there sees me coming she says: 'Oh no, football' – but it's all worth it. I love it, it is like a religion to me." He added that he hoped Ireland would have "done their homework" to avoid a drubbing from group favourites Germany.
"Scotland could be a spicy game, it's a big thing Scotland playing Ireland." And he also believes the draw provides the recipe for some tasty clashes at home.
"The Aviva will be full for Germany. Scotland should be a full house, Poland should be a full house – it should be great."
A spokesman from supporters' group You Boys in Green told the Irish Independent that the draw "definitely could have been easier". He said Germany would almost certainly top the group, and that Ireland would have to "scrap" with the other teams for second place.
But he added: "It's kind of a dream draw travel-wise. It's not that great on the pitch, but off the pitch it's great.
"Fans are going to be able to go to all these matches. Georgia will be the most difficult to get to, but it's do-able. At least there's no Kazakhstans."
Flights were already being snapped up online within hours of the matches being announced – the Ryanair trip from Dublin to Berlin on the day of the Germany game is already full.
A Ryanair spokesman said: "We've received many enquiries from Irish fans and we look forward to carrying thousands of supporters across Europe during this qualifying campaign – and hopefully to France for the final."
Some 24 teams will be eligible to participate in Euro 2016, which is eight more than the last championship.
The increase means that the winners and runners-up from each of the nine groups will automatically qualify, and there is also an opportunity for those in third place through play-offs.
But Paddy Power has lengthened Ireland's odds of qualifying from 8/11 to 4/5 following a "tough" draw. It also stretched our odds of winning from 100/1 to 125/1.