Tuesday 23 January 2018

And engage... rugby joy for one Irish couple in Paris

Boyfriend pops the question before the game

Gillian Curran and
Alan Skehill got
engaged in Paris
before the match
Gillian Curran and Alan Skehill got engaged in Paris before the match yesterday
Nuala and Fiona Frahling, from Belfast, at the game
Alice and Johnny O'Connell, from Blackrock, Dublin, on the way to the game
Ireland supporter Laura Johnston, from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, cheers on the team during the game
Didier Verhaege and his son, Danyoll from Belgium
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was also at the Stade de France

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

THERE was no fairy tale ending for Irish rugby fans who travelled to Paris for a second time in three weeks.

But while Ireland failed to snatch a victory in France, one Irish couple hopes to live happily ever after.

Dubliner Alan Skehill popped the question to his long-term girlfriend, Gillian Curran, in the French capital at the weekend.

The couple were starry-eyed as they held hands outside the Stade de France at St Denis yesterday.

Man of the match Tommy Bowe's verdict was "nobody likes a draw" but Alan already felt like he had the score of his life.

Alan and Gillian had planned a romantic break in Paris before they knew Ireland's Six Nations clash against France would coincide with their holiday. Bad weather forced last month's fixture to be called off. However, Gillian's boss was unable to travel for a second time, so he offered them the two tickets.


The couple got engaged over lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Paris on Saturday before they travelled to yesterday's match. They were among a small contingent of Irish supporters who filed into a packed Stade de France.

Many Irish couldn't afford to fly again this weekend with fares soaring above €400 -- and opted for a refund. French supporters snapped up the tickets and drowned out the Irish fans inside.

The weather was a cool 8C in Charles de Gaulle Airport early yesterday morning as Irish supporters touched down.

Earlier they had exchanged cynical looks on board the 6.20am Air France Flight when the captain announced poor weather conditions in Paris would delay take-off. Fog and low cloud had caused a backlog of landings in France so Paris-bound flights were delayed by 45 minutes.

Fears of a repeat of the disastrous late decision to call off the February 11 fixture did not come true, much to the relief of fans. However, the 17-17 stalemate meant they still had to walk away without a clear outcome.

Spirits were high before the game with the French sipping la biere blonde from 11am in bars surrounding the grounds.

The first of the Irish fans didn't surface until around lunchtime. Patricia McKernan from Portadown donned a green jersey after flying in from Luton with her partner, Englishman Clive Albon.

"It's madness, the price of tickets and flights," said Patricia. "We were lucky enough to get two for just over €70, that was at cost price. Most people just couldn't afford to come a second time."

Among those who decided not to travel a second time were Dubliner Jonathan Meade and his 82-year-old dad, Peter Meade. The pair were disappointed at how the fiasco was dealt with.

"The only problem was the way they handled it," said Jonathan in Dublin. "They could have tested the pitch on the Friday night."

There was friendly banter between the French and Irish ahead of the showdown, with Les Bleus switching to Les Verts in some cases. French couple Emilie Blond and Philippe Castel "love Ireland" and travelled to Dublin to see Ireland play Scotland last year.

The pair wore Irish rugby shirts, shamrocks and downed pints of Guinness ahead of the game.

Another Frenchman, Yann Miloux, who spent part of his youth in Greystones, Co Wicklow, had tricolours and French flags painted on his cheeks -- but he had the Irish colours on his back.

Alice and Johnny O'Connell from Blackrock in Dublin, enjoyed a family reunion of sorts when they bumped into their cousin, Anna Whitehouse, and her children: James (13), Emily (11) and Phillipa (16), who now live in Paris.

Didier Verhaege from Belgium also wore the green jersey -- in support of his Irish wife, Deirdre Mines from Artane, Dublin, who was too sick to attend. Didier went along to the match with his son, Danyoll, to cheer on Ireland.

"We travelled from Bruges to support the Irish team. We're big fans of the Irish," he said.

Irish Independent

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