Monday 26 August 2019

The Irish are coming - but French are warned revenge is on our minds

Dubliners Niall Keogh and Niall Mallin prepare for the next leg of their journey. Photo: Mark Condren
Dubliners Niall Keogh and Niall Mallin prepare for the next leg of their journey. Photo: Mark Condren
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Les Bleus be warned - Ireland is on a revenge mission for Thierry Henry's infamous 2009 handball and a young Irish football fan is convinced Euro '16 will settle old scores.

Ben Graham (12) from Blanchardstown in Dublin was at the match seven years ago with his parents, Geoff and Catherine, when the French striker and Arsenal hero used his hand to keep a ball in play so France could score a goal and knock Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup qualification battle.

"I have the real match ball used that night," Ben said.

"If Ireland play the way they did against Italy and Sweden they can win."

His father, Geoff, an Aviva season-ticket holder who spent €2,300 on Euro '16 tickets including match passes through to the final if Ireland make it back to Paris, said Ireland still owes France for 2009.

"It'll be tough. But Ireland has beaten Italy and Germany before, so why not France? They'll be under a lot of pressure from their own supporters that night," he said.

Thierry Henry’s hand helped break Irish hearts in 2009. Photo: Reuters
Thierry Henry’s hand helped break Irish hearts in 2009. Photo: Reuters

Niall Keogh and Niall Mallin still feel so strongly about the 2009 defeat to France they are travelling around Euro '16 in a Volvo 850 with 'Henry Le Cheat' as its rear-window slogan.

However, the French have a very different attitude towards the last-16 game against Ireland.

France has fallen in love with the Green Army's fun-filled, trouble-free approach to Euro '16 matches.

Prestigious French papers including L'Equipe, Le Figaro and Sud-Oeust have paid tribute to the behaviour of Irish fans.

Lyon city officials said they were "very pleased" that it was Ireland who would be France's opponents in the new 60,000-seater Stade Olympic Lyonnais on Sunday.

But French football fans don't fear us on the football pitch - and are rather more wary of trying to match the Irish fans drink for drink.

Jean-Michel Bathieu said French fans "love Ireland because they create such a wonderful atmosphere".

Lille football fan, Mathilde Noack, said French fans are delighted it is Ireland 'Les Bleus' are facing in the last 16.

"My brother is a very big fan and he loves the Irish fans. He said they are always smiling and having fun," she said.

The Green Army now face the latest 700km leg of their incredible 3,200km trek to and around France for the tournament.

Fans who could stay on an extra four days in France for the knock-out stages were beginning the logistical challenge of securing affordable accommodation in Lyon and then heading south.

An estimated 50,000 fans are expected to make the pilgrimage to Lyon and pray for revenge against France.

That involves a 700km transfer from northern France to Lyon - the second longest trek of their Euro '16 odyssey in France after the mammoth Bordeaux-Lille move at 856km.

"It's an expensive enough place, Lyon," warned Mark Dolan from Lucan.

"I'm lucky in that I don't have to be back in work until Monday. At a push, I think I'd get away with taking one extra day off. The problem now is money because I blew my entire budget on Tuesday last. Lyon is going to make a big hole in my savings."

Lyon is France's third largest city after Paris and Marseille and is a hub of IT and high-tech industries.

Ernie Murphy from Ennis, Co Clare was going home with three of his sons, Emmet, Eoin and Darragh after savouring the group games. But his fourth son, Cillian, is heading to Lyon where he hopes to link up with friends with a campervan.

"It's been incredible here. A lot of people are saying it is the Italia '90 for a new generation of Irish football fans," Ernie said.

Irish Independent

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