The Irish have arrived in Wales: Cardiff buzzing ahead of Six Nations showdown
The atmosphere is fizzing in Cardiff city centre ahead of the mouthwatering showdown with Wales at the Principality Stadium.
A Friday night match has brought its own challenges for the travelling supporters. There were days off work to be booked, taxis at dawn, pints over breakfast in Terminal Two. The mood was quiet, cautious onboard the early flight.
But on Friday afternoon the city centre was roiling. Welsh fans joined the party - finishing work early, swapping suits and ties for jerseys. Trains from the valleys disgorged their human cargo, pouring into St Mary Steet. Songs drifted out into the spring air - was it Bread of Heaven, The Fields of Athenry? At times it was hard to tell.
Olivia and Will Taylor from Portrush were looking forward to a match under Friday night lights.
"Ireland to win by about 10 points....Sexton to nail it for us," they enthused.
Stephanie O'Callaghan from Mallow, Co Cork and her friend Kerri Lyons from Kiltale, Co Meath had gone for the "hardcore" option of a day trip to Cardiff. Even though their flight wouldn't get them home until well after midnight, they were also in favour of the late kick-off. It was Stephanie's first trip to Cardiff and she was looking forward to the atmosphere under the closed roof.
"We're very confident, we have the luck of the Irish with us," said Kerri.
Welsh and Irish fans mingled happily together, including many friends who had travelled to the game together despite divided loyalties.
Yvonne Brophy from Portlaoise and Paula Williams from Llandrindod Wells were soaking up the scene in front of the city centre castle. "Friday night games are a bit strange but it gives you longer to recover from the hangover," laughed Paula.
Others were taking it easy such as Christy O'Connell from Mallow who was over with his son Cian (14).
And Alan McCourt from Templepatrick reckoned that "eating is cheating" but still admitted that he was going to have to grab something to line the stomach for the long night ahead.
Others insisted they were mixing work and pleasure. "We are here on business, honestly," claimed a group of lads in matching green suits and ties, although the pints in their hands told another story.
In the city centre as dusk fell, a lone leprechaun hammered at a miniature drum kit as his pot of gold (or loose change) grew in size, "I am actually from Cardiff," admitted the red haired, bearded fella. "But I look Irish don't I? I have been waiting for this game for ages".
The mission to paint Cardiff green had already won its first convert, before a ball had even been kicked.
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