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Loyalty

Tallinn has been turned green and the Irish fans are intent on spoiling the biggest night in Estonian football history.

The Baltic nation has never played a more significant game in their history but they hadn't counted on the sea of green that has invaded the medieval capital.

With memories of France 2008 and the infamous handball on their minds, around 3,500 Irish supporters have arrived in Tallinn ahead of tonight's game.

The vast majority won't get inside A Le Coq Arena but the party outside is set to rival anything Estonia has ever witnessed.

City chiefs today erected big screens in the Old Town's Freedom Square as they struggled to cope with the massive numbers of Irishmen and women arriving.

Fewer than 50 Irish people are normally resident in Estonia but that figure will be swelled 50-fold by kick-off at 9.45pm local time.

Tallinn airport experienced one of its busiest days of the year yesterday as chartered flights arrived with hundreds of singing fans.

Those not lucky enough to get a direct flight found more novel ways of reaching the former Soviet state.

Flights through London and Amsterdam were popular routes, while some went the several hundred extra miles to travel through Scandinavia.

And one dedicated fan even flew all the way from Australia to make sure he got in on the action.

Michael Doherty from Waterford made the epic journey from Perth in Australia.

"I just had to get here," the quantity surveyor said.

"It's worth it. I've met up with all the lads from home and it's something different. I'll fly back via Singapore where I'll stay for four days and then Bali for five days before going home to Perth."

Phil Brennan from Harold Cross took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn after first flying to Copenhagen.

"We left Dublin at 11am on Wednesday and got here at midnight," he told the Herald. The schoolboys ref was predicting a 2-0 win for the Irish.

As the crowds gathered at their Tallinn base in Molly Malone's Irish bar, one woman found herself fighting a lone battle for Estonia.

Barmaid Carmen Botha, who has been working at the pub for the past 10 months, said she loved the influx of fans.

"They are great fun. At first I had a problem with the accent but I now I know it," she said.

Despite donning an Irish shirt for the occasion Carmen said her loyalty was still to her home country. "I'm not a big fan of football but, of course, I hope Estonia win."

However her optimism wasn't winning any support from well-travelled supporter Malachy Gromley.

The Donegal man predicted that Tallinn could be one of Irish sports greatest moments.

"I started in 1990 and I've never missed a home or away game since. I've been there, done that," he laughed.

"I've been to six play-offs at this stage and we've lost five but I feel confident.

"We have all that play-off experience and they have nothing. It's the biggest match they've ever played."

Ireland's ambassador to Estonia is also gearing up for a busy few days but said that he doesn't expect any trouble.

"The Townhall Square will be a sea of green. They'll be a real Irish presence before everyone goes to the Stadium. They all congregate in Old Town," said Peter McIvor.

The ambassador, who has been stationed in Tallinn since August 2010, added: "The fans will have a great time. It's a very attractive place with a fantastic range of restaurants. It's got everything from good value to gourmet.

"Estonian people are very friendly and the use of English is widespread. It's easy to be a tourist here."

The influx of Irish fans meant an unexpected boom-time for the city of Tallinn.

General Manager of the Meriton Hotel, Heinz Weisl, told the Herald that staff there were preparing for an influx of 200 supporters.

"We wanted to have the team but we got around 200 fans instead," he laughed.

"It's a good business opportunity for us. Unfortunately, the stadium only holds 10,000 people."


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