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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Winner takes it all as frenzied Irish fans flood Cardiff

From left, Sinead and Aisling Ray, from Castlegar, Co Galway, in Cardiff Picture: Sportsfile
From left, Sinead and Aisling Ray, from Castlegar, Co Galway, in Cardiff Picture: Sportsfile

Ryan Nugent

The winner took it all. Ireland made it through a bruising encounter with Wales in Cardiff with the win that keeps the dream of World Cup qualification alive.

Fifty-seven minutes in, a Jeff Hendrick cross and Harry Arter dummy teed up James McClean to hammer home.

The stadium exploded. The following 30 minutes lasted a lifetime.

Soaked in beer, nerves jangling - but never in doubt - Cardiff went bananas as Ireland achieved the impossible. Up to 5,000 supporters are believed to have made it into the stadium. Double that and you'll get the figure for the amount of Irish in Cardiff last night as they toasted the genius of James McClean.

Martin O'Neill's men now are within touching distance of a first World Cup appearance in 16 years.

"It was unbelievable. I was in doubt from kick-off but we've just gone and done it," Jonathan Daly, from Swords, said. "It was nerve-racking, every time Wales got the ball I thought they'd score."

Irish fans will travel in big numbers to Denmark
Irish fans will travel in big numbers to Denmark

Meanwhile, it was a happy birthday for an Irish good luck charm.

Brendan O'Daly had his 37th birthday when Shane Long stuck it past Germany two years ago. He turned 39 on Sunday and what celebrations there were for it.

"Not a bad birthday present at all, we did it," he exclaimed.

His pal Sean Hendrick, from Wexford, epitomised the excitement. "Sure who's gonna bate us now? Unbelievable, absolutely savage, we're going to Russia," he added.

But while the game may not have begun until 7.45pm, the kick-off took place hours earlier on St Mary's Street - as beer and footballs flew over the heads of supporters, with Cardiff transformed into full-on party mode.

The many thousands of supporters who had been there all weekend were joined by many more who flew in bright and early yesterday morning.

Locals walking up and down the street (if they could make it by) were bemused by it all. It was a regular working Monday after all - although not for the Boys in Green.

Even Ireland centre-back Shane Duffy's parents joined in with the crowd outside Irish bar O'Neill's - the street was effectively blocked off in its entirety for a large-scale sing song and beer fight.

The supporters were up for it - they always are - but to be clear, the players were certainly in the same frame of mind, Duffy's father, Brian assured. "This is what it's all about, the big occasions, he's loving it," Brian said. "There'll be no excuses that's for sure, they'll leave nothing on the park. This is the good side of life, watching him, following him against Wales. Winner takes all."

Meanwhile, mum Siobhan insisted she had no intentions of screaming and shouting during the game.

"It's nerve-racking," she said. "I have to sit away from everyone, say nothing, just watch the game."

The city takeover was a throwback to France for Euro 2016, according to Jay Bautista, from Cobh, Co Cork, who flew out yesterday morning. "I wouldn't miss it for the world," she said. "It's like France, the atmosphere is the same as Paris."

It all began on Sunday night after fans were thrown into a frenzy following Scotland's draw in Slovenia.

"About 10 of us went outside O'Neill's with the beatbox and within an hour there were hundreds on the street," said Paul Tuite, from Templeogue, in Dublin.

Paul was wearing a hat with badges from dozens of different countries during his days with the Green Army.

"I've been on probably more than 100 trips and try to get a badge from wherever I go," he said.

Based on that experience, he was probably best-placed to make a call on the game. "It's a bit of a Lille situation, we needed to beat Italy and we went and did it," he said.

Similar to Lille, tickets were still the hot topic yesterday afternoon, with touts selling them for upwards of £250 (€280).

Dave Butler, from Raheny, has his wife to thank for his seat in the Cardiff City Stadium, after receiving his tickets at the altar less than two months ago.

"It was a present for me at my wedding," he said.

"My wife organised the trip and sent us all here. We got married in August and that's what I got at the altar, a little envelope handed to me with a trip to Wales."

But even for those without the elusive tickets Cardiff was the place to be last night.

"That was brilliant, I've never been covered in so much beer when that goal went in, everyone's pints were empty," Patrick Phillips, from Donabate, said.

"I'm exhaustive, I'm delighted, there will be no sleep tonight. That was worth the trip even without tickets," he added.

Irish Independent

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