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Saturday 17 March 2018

Michael D leads Green Army into Poland

Dara Folan in Poznan

THIS is it. Tonight 20,000 Irish fans, headed by the President Michael D Higgins, will converge on the Polish city of Poznan -- the largest exodus of travelling support since that heady summer that began in Stuttgart in 1988.

Irish fans have travelled by boat, planes, train, camper-vans and push bikes.

The obligatory inflatable hammers remain, leprechaun hats are still the headwear of choice and while the Irish carnival atmosphere feels alive as ever, international competition is no longer an unknown quantity for the Irish support.

The President, a lifelong Galway United fan, will be in the city for two days.

Mr Higgins will be presented with the replica top by manager Giovanni Trapattoni in the Stadion Miejski at a private function before the match against Croatia, which will be played in front of a capacity crowd of 44,000 fans.

Unlike Joxer and his mythical Stuttgart crew, the current crop of Irish support is perhaps a more cultured animal than its predecessor -- the joy and heartbreak of international experience giving them a greater sense of expectation.

During the halcyon days of Euro 88 and Italia 90, the mere fact that Ireland was competing in major international competition was enough to send the country into delirium and likewise propel those Irish players into legendary status. But while it may seem paradoxical (given the disparate qualities between the squads of 1988 and 2012), there is a tangible sense of expectation and hope riding on the 2012 Irish team.

However, the Croatia game tonight could make or break Irish aspirations; a fall at the first hurdle could prove disastrous, especially heading into far more difficult clashes -- on paper at least -- against Spain and Italy.

Ireland and Croatia, populations considered, are two nations who continue to punch above their weight in international football and this evening's tie should showcase a clash of graft and technique. Ireland have already proven themselves extremely difficult to beat and will know that they need to take full advantage of this opening fixture in order to progress any further in the competition.

As the tension and anticipation brews at home and abroad, Trapattoni and the Irish team continue to exude an eerie sense of calm. The question remains: is Poznan prepared for the green storm that's about to hit?

The Department of Foreign Affairs said they have had no serious incidents to deal with in the build up to the tournament and fans were in good spirits. There was one incident where an Irish fan was assaulted in Poznan in the aftermath of the Poland-Greece opening fixture on Friday night. He was treated at the scene and the man who assaulted him was arrested.

The 20,000 Irish fans in Poznan will not escape the wet conditions as rain is also predicted this week in the Polish city. But tonight's game is likely to be played under warm and dry conditions with rain not forecast to arrive until after the final whistle.

Sunday Independent

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