Friday 20 January 2017

Boisterous Green Army marching on with everything still to play for

Published 14/06/2016 | 02:30

A young Republic fan celebrates during the game. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
A young Republic fan celebrates during the game. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It was said the Irish supporters were in such flying form last night not even Thierry Henry could have handled them.

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Ireland's draw with Sweden was the first time the football side returned to France since the striker's infamous handball knocked them out of the World Cup qualifiers seven years ago.

And it was Wes Hoolahan's wonderful strike that left more than 50,000 of them leaving the French capital with better memories.

The Green Army threw everything they had behind the Boys in Green. It was a wonder a kitchen sink didn't make its way on to the pitch, or a push bike.

Irish supporters mingle with French police in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren
Irish supporters mingle with French police in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren

Watch: Irish fans still singing in Dublin despite 'frustrating' draw with Sweden

Kevin Donagher, from Milltown in Co Dublin, cycled to the match after setting out from his home last week.

"I'm not cycling home, I'll be too wrecked and hungover for that," he added.

"I only cycled over for a bit of craic myself. It was tough but we had a good night here. It was well worth it."

Republic of Ireland supporters ahead of kick-off. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland supporters ahead of kick-off. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

There was tight security at the ground but both sets of supporters were impeccably behaved. It was just as well.

The Swedish section was infiltrated by resourceful Ireland fans who had managed to source extra tickets through official and unofficial means.

Getting home is already on the agenda for many fans but thousands more will stay on and follow the Boys in Green to Bordeaux and then Lille for games against Belgium and Italy.

However, a pilot strike at Air France means many may stay on, said James Fitzpatrick from Sutton, Co Dublin. "I'm supposed to fly out Tuesday but maybe if it's cancelled I'll stay on too. I did the three games in Poland but couldn't get the time off for three games this year.

Sinead Croft and Danielle McNamee from Dublin watching the match in the Euro's 2016 fanzone in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren
Sinead Croft and Danielle McNamee from Dublin watching the match in the Euro's 2016 fanzone in Paris. Pic:Mark Condren

"Maybe Air France will cancel my flight and I'll have to travel south with the lads."

Read more: Ryanair and Aer Lingus cancel flights as new strike 'targets' football fans

The FAI's official ticket allocation was 25,000 but at least double that were wearing green here last night.

"We definitely outnumbered them," said Meg Blyth from Cork.

Republic of Ireland supporters ahead of the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France in Saint Denis, Paris, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland supporters ahead of the UEFA Euro 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France in Saint Denis, Paris, France. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

"It was an unbelievable atmosphere. Pity we did not win but onwards and upwards."

It was plain sailing for Martin O'Neill's men before their lead was cancelled out by an own goal. However, the mood among the fans was never in question. "You guys are crazy," said Sanna Pettersson from Stockholm.

"The Irish are definitely beating us off of the pitch."

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney (left) and Emma English in the stands during the match at the Stade de France. Photo: PA
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney (left) and Emma English in the stands during the match at the Stade de France. Photo: PA

Before kick-off, the Swedes arrived earlier than the Irish fans who ignored police warnings to get to the ground in plenty of time.

"I was busy making sure a local watering hole was well served by the credit union loan," said one late arrival, who asked to remain anonymous. He was supposed to be buying books for college.

The Irish and Swedish colours were a sight to behold as the teams took to the pitch in front of a full house of 80,000. The Irish voices were so dominant it was hard to tell if it was a Munster final in Killarney or one of the biggest sporting occasions in the world.

Golfer Pádraig Harrington appeared on the big screen inside to encourage the masses to "stand up for the Boys in Green".

They did that and then some. 'Amhrán na bhFiann' was belted out with gusto. If it didn't get the players on the pitch fired up, nothing would.

"It may have finished all square on the pitch," said Conor McCarthy from Longford. "But we showed them how to support a team."

A Sweden supporter during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de France. Photo: PA
A Sweden supporter during the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de France. Photo: PA

Getting to the stadium was not easy for the Irish fans.

A French rail strike meant there was no direct train from the city centre to the stadium in St Denis on the city limits.

Fans wandered lost around numerous stops along the way, not knowing where to go until helpful locals pointed them in the right direction.

Seán McCarrick from Longford said he was happy with the performance and will remain optimistic because he has a ticket for the Belgium game on Saturday.

"Optimism goes a long way and you could see that tonight ... the atmosphere was class. It's a pity we didn't win but everyone gave a good account of themselves.

The ghost of Henry's hand is now behind the Irish supporters with new memories created in the stadium. Hoolahan's goal has given fans a better memory of Paris and helped to ease their European Championship woes from 2012.

A crowd watches the match in Dame Lane in Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
A crowd watches the match in Dame Lane in Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

The draw may have been anticlimactic but there are plenty of legs left in the Green Army yet.

Video: 'Roll on Bordeaux' - Fans leaving the Stade de France remain upbeat

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