Green Army won't say 'au revoir' just yet
Singing like Christy, dancing like Flatley - Irish fans 'take over'
Published 23/06/2016 | 02:30
They sang like Christy Moore, danced like Michael Flatley and partied like they were at the world's biggest stag do.
And last night, Irish supporters in Lille saw their dream that host nation France would not be bidding au revoir to the Boys in Green just yet come true.
Martin O'Neill's men were up for the challenge from the first minute, striving to secure the win against the former World Champions that would take them to the second round of the European Championships for the first time.
They knew failure to secure only their fourth win inside 90 minutes at a major tournament would mark Ireland's last involvement at an elite level for at least another two years.
But a header from Robbie Brady with just six minutes remaining ensured this didn't happen.
The fans had enjoyed their time in France and, before the match, they were adamant the trip was not about to end last night.
However, some nearly never made it.
An aborted take-off at Dublin Airport yesterday morning meant 200 supporters bound for Lille faced an anxious wait for a replacement plane before they eventually arrived in-time for the match after a three-hour delay.
Eamon Scott from Malahide was on-board with five friends when the take-off was aborted and said he was worried they would miss the game.
"We're just glad to be here now," he said after arriving in Lille.
"We are three hours behind schedule but it could have been far worse.
"The pilot obviously made the right decision but 200 supporters on board could have been left very disappointed had we not made it."
The extra 200 tickets would have been more than welcomed by the travelling masses.
"My boyfriend has a ticket but I couldn't get one," said Jane Ryan from Tipperary.
"It's great craic around the town. The atmosphere is something else with lads singing.
"We met a group of Dutch lads who are in full Ireland kits. They love us."
For the majority of the tournament, the weather in France had been wet and grey, just like home.
But yesterday the sun broke out in Lille and brought a renewed optimism to the travelling Green Army.
As they gathered in the city centre by picturesque fountains the fans basked in the sun and hoped their stay here would be prolonged.
The city centre's Tír na nÓg Irish bar was particularly popular with fans as hundreds poured in before kick off to soak up the atmosphere.
Other fans filled the pubs around the Lille Flanders train station, using a nearby fountain to cool off before matters on the pitch got a bit too intense.
Some fans were not even looking for tickets. They were just there to soak it all in.
Paul Uniacke, Brendan McHugh and Dean Bruen from Galway drove from London to be part of the festivities.
"We didn't really look for tickets.
"We wanted to come to experience the atmosphere and join in the craic," said Paul.
"It's electric," added Dean. "There's not an Italian to be seen. The Irish have taken over."
An estimated 50,000 supporters had travelled to northern France for the game. The majority were able to pick up tickets.
With Italy already qualified, their supporters were selling at a loss with tickets exchanging hands for one third of the original face value.
France had been like a home from home for the Irish.
The locals had embraced them for their party attitude and the way they conducted themselves.
When not singing lullabies to babies on a train, cleaning up the streets, repairing cars or mingling with rival supporters, the Irish were busy winning the hearts of their French hosts.
Plenty of French people were floating around Lille yesterday giving passing Irish people an "allez les Verts" (come on the Greens) or even the odd "conas atá tú?"
Nicolas Blasquez from Lille said the French didn't want the Irish to go home.
"Usually French people don't stop and talk to people, especially in Paris, but they have all been stopping to watch the Irish (fans) and try to speak English and Gaelic with them," he said.
"The videos of them singing with the baby in Bordeaux, or helping old people in Paris have resonated with people in France.
"We knew they were good fans from rugby but have never experienced this.
"Bar staff are happy they came here because they are very respectful, compared to some of the other supporters who caused trouble here.
"The Irish have shown the world how to behave.
"We don't want you to go home."
And now, as the Boys in Green prepare to face France in Lyon on Sunday, the host country can postpone saying 'adieu' to the Green Army for a while yet.