Euro 2012: Welcoming Poles turn out in their thousands to greet Irish team
WHILE the travelling circus of Irish fans moved towards Poland and the opening games of the Euros, their hosts laid on one hell of a welcome for the Irish team yesterday.
Around 12,000 Polish turned out to see the Irish team train, and among the massive crowd was one dedicated Irish fan who thought nothing of a 22-hour round-trip to see the open session in the Municipal Stadium in Gdynia on the Baltic coast.
Cathal Gantley, an English teacher originally from Trim, Co Meath, spent 11 hours travelling by train to watch the 45-minute exhibition.
"I just came up to support the team -- I couldn't pass up the opportunity, living in Poland. It's a once in a lifetime," the 30-year-old said.
He emigrated to the Polish city of Krakow two-and-a-half years ago and stood out a mile in the green and gold of Meath among the Polish masses.
The huge support was not lost on Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who admitted he was taken aback by the crowds and atmosphere.
"It was a great surprise for me, fantastic for me because I think we have to somehow pay our respects back for this kindness we have received today," he said.
Also there were Dublin students Marcus Brien, Dan Hogan, Ciaran Ryan and James Palmer. They happened upon the open session by sheer chance, after being told about it by girls they met at Gdansk airport.
News of the huge turnout at the training session made its way to Poznan, where the first of the Irish fans began to arrive before Sunday's opening game against Croatia.
Phil Brennan, from Kilbarrack in Dublin, was impressed: "12,000? Jaysus, that's something else."
The city is still getting ready for the influx of fans. The fanzone is still being built and the fans' campsite has yet to open .
But the campsite is of little concern to two people who have hit the accommodation jackpot: a free gaff. In Poznan. For the Euros. Colm Parker (23) has just that. It's being put up by his girlfriend's dad, so he has to be on his best behaviour, and his girlfriend is with him for the next two weeks.
But Zita J O'Donoghue (22), from Clogheen, Co Cork, is as football mad as her fella.
She once earned national attention for getting Roy Keane to sign her sick note from school to excuse her missing class to go to his book signing.
"We're here for two-and-a-half weeks," said Colm, sitting out in the Old Square in a chilly and overcast Poznan with his girlfriend and her dad, Matt, yesterday evening.
Matt spends a lot of time in Poznan and had some advice for the fans due to arrive: stay away from the main squares if you want to avoid getting ripped off, and bring clothes for all sorts of weather.
The good news is, it's expected to improve. We hope.
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