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Last goodbye: Boys bid tearful farewell to packed Croke Park

FOURTEEN years and 14 number ones later, Westlife brought it all home last night -- including their families.

Thousands of teary-eyed fans sang their hearts out in one of the most emotional concerts Croke Park has ever witnessed.

The famous foursome began the wind-down with a bang by belting out a note-perfect rendition of What About Now, accompanied by some 85,000 backing singers.

For Queen Of My Heart, Shane Filan, Nicky Byrne, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan did something they had "always wanted to do" and brought their parents and children on stage.

On her way to the concert, Nicky's mother-in-law, Miriam Ahern, told the Herald she was looking forward to singing along to the lads' favourite numbers: "It's going to be a brilliant, but very emotional time for us all," she said.

An overwhelmed Kian (32) said: "Ireland you've really supported us over the years... Tonight's a celebration, 14 years of amazing success. Thanks to each and every one of you... We want you all to leave with the best memory of Westlife in your entire lives."

The quartet interacted with the excited audience throughout the two-hour show.

Nicky (33) joked about One Direction taking Westlife's place in the Christmas gift list: "What are all the husbands going to get their wives this year?"

Shane (32) said: "I can always say that I'll be a member of Westlife. We'll always be members of Westlife. The week after these gigs will be tough."

It's been a rollercoaster week for the stars, who are playing in Croker two nights running for the first time.

The atmosphere was quiet backstage in the build-up to curtain call, said an insider. "Normally everyone would be running around behind the scenes, but it's as if the realisation had hit home that it's all coming to a halt."

Fans flew from Israel, Australia, Germany and Holland for the special event and queued from 4pm.

Concert-goers told of their sadness to see Westlife hang up their mics.

Belfast girl Louise Bannon travelled down with three friends: "We've been to every Westlife gig, we wouldn't miss this one for the world. We'll all be in floods of tears for Flying Without Wings."

Kilkenny native Joan Fennelly (52) brought along her daughters and nieces. "I rate them up there with my ultimate favourites like Michael Jackson and Abba. I'm gutted they're retiring, I'll definitely shed a few tears."

Niamh Cunningham, who hails from Limerick, first saw the boys perform at a Rose of Tralee festival. She said she fell in love with them then and would be one of the loudest in the stands.

Pals Michelle Boyle and Lorda Fahey, from Co Laois, said they danced around the kitchen all day to prepare themselves.

"We've been crying our eyes out," Michelle said.

Opening the band's two-night extravaganza in Croke Park were hair-raising duo Jedward.

Also helping to warm up the crowd were boyband The Wanted, who had revellers jumping around.

But the main attraction were the four boys. Before they stormed on to the stage, the crowd went wild when four massive effigies were lit on fire to signal their final hours at the forefront of Irish music.

labutler@ herald.ie