Video: Ticketless Irish fan sneaks into game by donning Estonia tracksuit
Supporter joins heroes on pitch in 'borrowed' tracksuit
THEY say a clipboard and an air of confidence will get you into any building in the world.
But one enterprising Ireland football fan has proved that a tracksuit and a touch of bravado can get you into a full stadium, on to the pitch, into the manager's dugout and on to live television.
And not just for any game either.
A ticketless Conor Cunningham (27) successfully bluffed his way into last Friday night’s sell-out play-off game in Estonia before taking up the best seat in the house -- right next to the Estonian manager Tarmo Ruutli -- before celebrating on the hallowed turf.
Later, he stood beside Robbie Keane and Keith Andrews as they did TV interviews in the tunnel. And all because he 'borrowed' a tracksuit.
"I was just determined to see the match -- 11 of us arrived in Tallin for the game and we were being quoted €600 for tickets," the Corkman said yesterday.
"In the end, 10 of us got into the stadium -- but I definitely got the best story and photos."
The part-time fitness instructor first tried to pretend he was a security guard to gain admission. When that didn't work, he spotted an open doorway and thought it might lead into the ground.
"It was a corridor and a dead end. But I did see a bag of footballs and, when I picked them up, spotted an Estonian tracksuit underneath them," he told the Irish Independent.
Conor, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, put the tracksuit on over his jeans and Irish jersey and then walked unhindered by security guards into the stadium and on to the pitch.
It was a stunt reminiscent of that carried out by Dublin GAA fan Stephen Molloy (27) who managed to get into the team's All-Ireland winning team photos in Croke Park last September.
"I didn't know what to do, to be honest, so I thought I'd better go into the Estonian dug-out. No one said anything to me and then I realised I was sitting beside their manager," Conor added.
"It was about 10 or 15 minutes into the match when a UEFA official got suspicious of me. He came over and, after talking to me, told me I had to move."
Conor then spent the next 15 minutes sitting beside a TV cameraman just off the half-way line -- the best vantage point in the stadium.
But the eagle-eyed UEFA official spotted him again -- and this time directed him into a prized seat just six rows back from the pitch side.
"When the match was over and Ireland had qualified, I said I'd chance my arm and I walked out on to the pitch. I celebrated with the players, shook hands with them all and even asked a few could I have their jerseys.
"They were all really nice -- they apologised and said they'd already promised the jerseys to friends and family. But Keith Andrews said I could have his -- though I didn't get to see him again after they went into the dressing room," he added.
Conor was so carried away with the emotion of the occasion that he decided to follow the Irish stars back into the tunnel and stood proudly beside Robbie Keane and Keith Andrews as they did interviews.
"I tried to record the whole thing on my camera phone because I knew my friends would never believe it. I could hardly believe it myself," Conor said.
The ruse finally came undone when an Estonian team official became suspicious as to why someone in an Estonian tracksuit was celebrating so enthusiastically about Ireland's qualification.
"She came over to me and started talking to me and I just said I had to bring the bag of footballs back," Conor added.
Outside the stadium, the part-time fitness club instructor told his disbelieving friends about his adventure, and then produced the video and photographic proof.
"I was so excited I decided to post a lot of the stuff on YouTube. I still can't believe what happened, it's one of the most amazing experiences of my life," he added.
Unsurprisingly, he now has his sights trained on Poland and the Ukraine next summer -- he's probably on the lookout for a pilot's uniform.
Last night, a spokesman for the FAI said it was unaware of the incident, or even whether it actually occurred.