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JOY: Fans party like it’s 1988

THEY came, they scored four times and they conquered.

Giovanni Trapattoni will be forever remembered as the tsar of Tallinn.

Not even the most optimistic Irish supporter would have been brave enough to predict it.

In fact, most still didn't believe it despite seeing it with their own eyes.

As the choruses of "Ole Ole" and "Come On You Boys in Green" eventually started to die down this morning, they gave way to chants of "You're never going to believe us, we're going to Polski".

It was a long night in Tallinn. As the crowds streamed back from the A La Coq Stadium to the city centre around midnight it was evident that nobody was going to bed.

Tallinn's old town became a shrine to Trapattoni and his 11 apostles and, of course, the substitutes. Flags were draped from pubs, hotels and even churches were redecorated with tricolours.

There were leprechauns, kilts, big hats, small shorts and some hardy souls made an attempt to bring back spandex, despite the Baltic cold.

Robbie Keane and his team are all but through to Euro 2012 and, with the performance of a lifetime, they ensured folklore status that was previously reserved for the likes of Paul McGrath and Packie Bonner.

For Estonia, it was the biggest night in their footballing history but they collapsed, suffered two red cards and were played off the field by a vastly more experienced team.

The FAI was only given 1,400 tickets but the green army invaded and some managed to wriggle their way inside the tiny stadium without tickets.

Bizarrely, the stadium officials decided to warm up the crowd by playing Eimear Quinn's Eurovision song The Voice. But it turns out that the winning tune from 1996 was a good omen.

Fireworks shot into the air as the referee blew the first whistle -- but that was as good as it got for the home crowd.

After just 14 minutes, Keith Andrews had us 1-0 ahead and there was no going back. Most would have settled for a solid one-goal lead before Tuesday's return leg in the Aviva but what followed was remarkable -- three more goals at the end of the stadium that was awash with green jerseys.

At 2-0 the Irish were in dreamland -- by the time Robbie Keane slotted home the penalty to make it 4-0, there was sheer ecstasy.

The Estonians were fascinated by the carnival atmosphere that the Irish brought and while the police kept a low-profile throughout the night, they were on stand-by just in case.

News channels from across Eastern Europe followed the fans, while the local press calling it the "green-orange invasion".

And the supporters became tourist attractions themselves as other visitors to the city joined in the party by getting photographs with some of the best and worst dressed fans.

For every fan who had a ticket there were at least two without and as the day progressed it became obvious that there was little hope of picking up a last minute freebie. A lucky few won tickets in a raffle held by FAI boss John Delaney.

The locals were disappointed but mostly gracious in defeat. In fairness there was little they could do but accept that they were beaten by a superior team.

The journey home started today with sore heads and sorer bank balances. But there was also the promise of a sell-out party for 50,000 people in Dublin on Tuesday night.

As has become the unofficial theme tune of the Irish fans in Tallinn -- We Just Can't Get Enough.

kdoyle@herald.ie


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