Brave Ireland bid au revoir to Euro dream
No divine intervention for the Boys in Green as Irish dreams are dashed
Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30
Every Irish mammy had said novenas and lit candles hoping their sons and daughters in France would see a win against the hosts.
There would be no divine intervention to save the Boys in Green from Euro 2016 elimination but, if bottled, the Irish pride shown in Lyon would have made the finest of French wines taste like vinegar in comparison.
The omens before kick-off were good. Despite the FAI only receiving 4,604 tickets from Uefa for the encounter, the ever-resourceful Green Army had sourced extra tickets themselves - at least double the number of seats allocated to the Irish were clad in green.
"We should have more fans here," said Eugene Corcoran from Tralee, who had travelled with his nephew Eoin.
"There should have been more tickets and more transparency on Uefa's part."
French and Irish fans mingled as locals wearing jerseys commemorating the host's 1998 World Cup win sang 'Stand Up for the Boys in Green'. A huge Irish Tricolour was passed through the French section of the ground, and even the refs were wearing green as they warmed up with the two teams.
What came next were two unbelievable minutes in the history of Irish football.
Ireland were gifted a penalty in the opening moments of the game. France had barely touched the ball when Robbie Brady converted to put Ireland a goal up.
The ticket concerns were put to bed as the Irish hugged, kissed and jumped in jubilation.
"When the goal went in it was like nothing I've ever experienced," said Eoin.
"It's up there with one of the best moments of my life. I have never seen anything like it. The place was buzzing."
If the stadium had a roof, it would have been blown off by the pressure and tension afterwards.
The Irish supporters stayed on their feet until half-time. Many were too nervous to sit. They kicked and headed every ball with the players, made every tackle and did all they could to get the Boys in Green over the line.
One fan from Cork could not get the time off work for the Euros, but still drove through the night to make it to Lyon, and said: "I wrote out an email on Friday night explaining that I am sick and won't be in work after the weekend. I haven't pressed send yet. I'll do that first thing Monday morning.
"I deleted everyone from work off Facebook so they wouldn't see pictures of me here. I wouldn't miss this for the world. It's amazing."
Eventually, the French pressure saw the lead change hands, and the help Ireland received from the referee earlier was undone as Shane Duffy was sent off midway through the second half.
You could sense the Irish fans had resigned themselves to their fate, and it would be the French progressing to the quarter-final.
"I am very disappointed but I am so proud to be here. It was a brave performance," said Eamon Cleary from Co Cork.
"We'll be back in two years to support them at the World Cup in Russia."
At the final whistle, the scenes had become too much for many who had broken the bank to make it here. Tears filled the eyes of thousands as they realised it was time to head home.
As the happy French marched out buoyed by their side's success, the 10,000 Ireland fans congregated in one corner of the stadium and stayed behind for 30 minutes after the final whistle to show their appreciation for the players' efforts. They spontaneously burst into 'The Fields of Athenry' as Robbie Keane and the rest looked on.
Cathal Lynch from Leitrim is a veteran supporter who has followed the Boys in Green to five international tournaments since 1988.
"This was one of the better ones," he said. "The singing at the end is the norm for Irish supporters. We know how to do things right and the players appreciate that."
Ireland's captain Seamus Coleman spoke about a special bond between the supporters and players afterwards. That bond has seen the Irish become the real stars of the tournament.
Our fans are the darlings of the French media, with countless column inches dedicated to them. The French did not want us to leave - but obviously not at the expense of their own side.
Phil Dunphy from Co Clare said he was proud to play his part, saying: "This is a new generation of fans and now we have new memories. This is our Italia '90...it was worth every penny."