Thursday 17 August 2017

Watch: Ireland's youngest fan wasn't even born when his father booked tickets for Euro 2016

Three-month-old Tommy McGrath joins 21 family members on trip of a lifetime

Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

A “devious plan”, hatched in a bar two years, came to fruition at Dublin airport today.

When Mark McGrath (35) sat down with his father and brother in a pub in Dunmore-East Co Waterford and plotted to bring 22 members of his family to Euro 2016, his son Tommy wasn't even born.

But decked out in full Ireland gear Mark, his wife Grace (32) and sons Padraig Burke (13), Conor (2) and youngest Irish fan of all, three-month-old Tommy, were at Dublin airport this afternoon where they were taking a flight to France.

Grace explained: “Mark and his father and my brother-in-law all got together in a pub in Dunmore East and then suggested it to us afterwards as if it was the first they had thought about it.

Padraig Burke, Grace McGrath her son Tommy and Conor and Husband Mark at Dublin airport. Picture: Mark McConville
Padraig Burke, Grace McGrath her son Tommy and Conor and Husband Mark at Dublin airport. Picture: Mark McConville

“But we were all up for it. We were delighted, we had our flights and everything booked before we actually qualified.

“We were thrilled when they did [qulaify].”

The family are flying to Perpignan with 17 other relations – eight adults and 14 children.

They have tickets for the Ireland versus Belgium game and a number of matches in the tournament involving other sides.

Mark said following the Irish team from Paris to Bordeaux and back up to the North Eastern city of Lille was not feasible with so many young children.

“There is a big crew of us planning it for some time no,” he explained.

“We're flying into Perpingnan. When we booked it, we actually took a risk as a lot of venues are in the south of France. We had tickets for the Paris game but it was costing too much to go up and down.

“We are going to watch the Sweden game in Perpignan. We are going to travel up to Bordeaux by car for the Belgium game.

“We will be watching the Italy game in Perpignan.”

Asked if it's difficult to travel with the whole family Mark laughed: “We are learning that as we go. It's pretty difficult. It has its pluses, seeing this fellow [Conor] running around and kicking a football, that's all good.

“We are all really excited, this trip has been two years in the making so we are all really looking forward to it. The kids are a handful but it's great to have the family to help with it. We are enjoying it, it's all part of the fun.”

John Griffin (36) was also in the airport this afternoon to see his girlfriend Niki Reitmayer off to Canada. John is heading to France on Sunday and Niki (29) is returning home to Vancouver for the tournament.

John, from Askeaton, Co Limerick, was one of the lucky ones who managed to secure tickets for all of the Ireland games: “We're heading away to France to join the Green army for the green invasion. We are in it until the end, so we are definitely going to get two weeks and hopefully a bit longer.”

When asked if they are travelling to France together Niki laughed: “He told me 'no girlfriends allowed in France'.”

John,confirmed: “Yeah, it's a boys only trip.”

Nikki said she will be cheering on the boys in green but admitted she won't be too disappointed if they fail to advance to the last 16.

“Personally, I'm hoping they get knocked out early because he told me that when Ireland get knocked out he's coming home again.

“I will be rooting for them (Republic of Ireland) back home. 9Am, Monday morning Canada time, I'll be there watching it for sure.

“He [John] told me to look out for him, he'll be the guy wearing green” She continued: “I originally came just to crash his party for a few days before he went. I figured it would be the last time I will see a photo of him sober for the next three weeks.”

Dublin airport was teeming with football fans this afternoon but the vast majority of them were supporting Wales and Northern Ireland.

The supporters explained that it was working out cheaper to take flights from, or through Dublin. Both nations qualified for the tournament before the Martin O'Neill's charges, allowing fans to snap up cheaper tickets.

Dean McFarland (28), from Castlederg in Co Tyrone was flying with four friends to Geneva where they will pick up a campervan and drive to France.

“There are more flights available from Dublin, and they're cheaper. As soon as we qualified, we booked straight away.”

Eddie Booth (52), from Belfast said he and three pals are going for as long as Northern Ireland are in the tournament.

“We might just stay for the final when we are there, lift the trophy. If not we'll be singing a song anyway. But I think we will get on, It might just even be an All-Ireland final. Anything can happen in the tournament.”

Ross Lawlor (33) said that when Northern Ireland qualified there was no way they weren't going.

“Every time you make it to a major tournament you have got to go and support, especially for a country like us, you are not going to make it there too often. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Cousins Liam (19) and Jamie Aston (24), from Bangor in North Wales drove to Liverpool before hopping on a flight to Dublin and then getting a connection to Bordeaux.

Wales start their campaign against Slovakia on Saturday, June 11 in the city and their fans said it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

“It's cheaper to fly through Dublin, simply because, It's cheper.”

Jamie explained that the excitement is building up in Wales.

“Whatever happens happens. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for any Welsh person.”

“Come Saturday, Bordeaux will be rammed with Welsh fans.

“We have a good set of fans. It's just coming together now, it's going to be awesome for all the home nations, except for the Scottish,” laughed Jamie.

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