Sunday 15 December 2019

Paris 10 Years On: The stories behind the headlines as told by those who were there

All in hand: Thierry Henry’s handball which led to the crucial French goal in 2009. But Irish players and management have all said that today’s game should be seen as a chance to make football history — rather than remember it
All in hand: Thierry Henry’s handball which led to the crucial French goal in 2009. But Irish players and management have all said that today’s game should be seen as a chance to make football history — rather than remember it
Richard Dunne reacts after the World Cup 2010 Qualifying Play-off second leg defeat to France, Stade de France, Saint-Denis, Paris, France. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Richard Dunne, Vincent Hogan, Daniel McDonnell, David Kelly, Aidan Fitzmaurice, Ruaidhri O'Connor and Stephen McCarthy

A decade has passed since a night of infamy in Paris, a game that was billed as a formality but turned out to be one of the most significant fixtures in Irish football history.

On Monday, it will be 10 years exactly since Giovanni Trapattoni brought his side to the Stade de France in search of a miracle after a 1-0 home defeat to France in the first leg of their World Cup play-off.

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His team almost delivered it, throwing off the shackles to score the only goal in the 90 minutes to send the game into extra-time.

What followed was the Thierry Henry handball that was seen around the world but was missed by the Swedish match officials. That assist for William Gallas was enough for France to book a place in South Africa, thus condemning Ireland to tears of misery and exasperation.

The fallout continued for weeks and months and it transpired years later that the FAI even received €5m from FIFA on account of the fiasco.

It was no consolation for the Irish visitors that were present for an occasion that turned out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

These are reflections of our team that were there on the night.

Richard Dunne: 'Gerard Houllier was the one person who tried to rub it in our faces, the French players never did'

I still hadn’t seen Thierry Henry’s handball when he came over to talk to me after the final whistle that night in Paris.

I don’t think I understood that he had done it but then he came over to me and said, ‘I handled the ball’. And I was like, ‘What do you want me to do about it? You should have said that 20 minutes ago.’ I can’t see the benefit of someone coming over to admit they handled it. It’s over and we lost.

I just remember him saying it to me and me saying, ‘It doesn’t matter now’. I think it was Mick McCarthy who said I should have boxed Henry... but I saw no benefit in all of that. We’d played 120 minutes and put everything we had into the game, the last thing you want to do is get into a fight and start scrapping with people.

I didn’t see the incident. When the free-kick came in, me and the other centre-half jumped for the ball, the two of us fell down, the ball bounced over us as we are on the ground. It happened and Gallas scored. My first viewing is Shay pointing to his hand.

I hadn’t seen but I knew it had been a handball, though I didn’t know who had handled it. I could see the anger in Shay, more than anyone else. And I remember Trapattoni raging. He was up and down the corridors, in and out of the referee’s room, the FIFA room, looking to speak to someone to bring some sort of justice to it Paris 2009 is honestly not something I think about.

Whatever way you look at it, either a good performance or getting done by a handball, by the next Saturday you are playing for your club again and as much as you might want to dwell on it, feel hard done by, once it’s done you deal with it and it’s over. If it’s in your head after 10 years, it will still be in your head in 30 years.

Gérard Houllier, Technical Director, French Football Federation at the World Cup Qualifying Play-off 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v France, Stade de France, Saint-Denis, Paris, France on November 18 2009. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

But what do I remember is Gerard Houllier skipping past our bus and doing this s***ty little dance. He was French but part of UEFA at the time and he was happy. Houllier went on to be my manager at Aston Villa: I fell out with him a few times, I never liked him since that moment. He was the one person who tried to rub it in our faces, the French players never did.

I was in trouble at Villa one time and Houllier called me and James Collins in for a meeting. Before we went in, James said to me, ‘Whatever happens here, don’t react to him’.

So we started talking, Houllier just said, ‘I don’t know if you don’t like me because I am French or because of Thierry Henry’s handball’. And before I could say anything, James Collins was over the table, saying ‘shut up you f***ing a**ehole’. So even for him, it was still in his head.

There was no such thing as a players’ revolt on the bus to the match, we had too much respect for Trapattoni. But we were disappointed with how we’d played in the first leg in Dublin. What we had done in Dublin, we needed the complete opposite in Paris. I can’t recall Trapattoni saying specifically that ‘this is what I want you to do’. I think as a group of players we decided we couldn’t take a backwards step in the match.

And the French players had wound us up, Claude Makelele said something to Keith Andrews after the won the first leg in Croke Park, I think it was more derogatory about the country than anything else – that started to wind people up. They gave us enough reason to want to go there and do something.

I have never watched the match back but I can guess by the fact that we beat France in Paris over 90 minutes that it was a pretty good performance. We had nothing to lose so we played with freedom.

Like in any situation, you cope in your own way and you don’t have a collective response or memory of it. There was frustration when it came out that the FAI were given money, that was annoying as people seemed to suggest that the players had received money and that was never the case. Us players had ambitions to play in World Cups, big tournaments, and that was taken away from us; whether we got money or not would have made no difference.

Richard Dunne and Thierry Henry

If there is a regret it’s that the squad was at a good age then and we were a very good team, playing well. I think we’d have represented ourselves very well in South Africa.

Because when we went to Poland two years later we weren’t the same team, we had injuries and knocks, our time was two years earlier and that’s the bit where you think, ‘That was our opportunity’.

At the World Cup we’d have been in our prime: for the Euros in 2012 we were in our 30s, whereas I think we’d have been the right age to handle it in 2010.

But it’s not like every time a World Cup comes around I think, ‘What if we’d have been there in 2010?’ You deal with it and if it’s not to be, then s**t happens. But now, ten years on, there’s no way that goal would have been allowed to stand.

It never came up again with the French players. I have met William Gallas a few times but it never came up. A fan can dwell on it, harbour that hate, but as a player you can’t do that; every time you see a French player you can’t want to go over and kick his head in, you’d get sent off every week.

I remember going in to Aston Villa on the Friday morning after Paris. They said to just have a lie down, have a rest and don’t bother training, and the next day we played Burnley and that was it, you move on. You meet to get the bus to Burnley, you have a team meeting and it’s all about corners and what to do against Burnley.

I can understand the frustration of fans who paid good money to go to Paris and wanted to go to South Africa, but you have to look at it from every angle for me as a footballer, within two days I was back playing in the Premier League.

I did a thing for ITV sport at the Euros a few years ago, they said to me, ‘Oh, you are still going on about Thierry Henry, the handball’. And two minutes later they showed an ad for a piece about 30 years after the Diego Maradona handball at the World Cup, so everyone has their own ways, own memories. If you don’t have anything that’s a success, you can look back on times when you were hard done by.

Ireland players Keith Andrew, Shay Given and Sean St. Ledger remonstrate with referee Martin Hansson

Vincent Hogan: 'The Algerian fruit-seller hurried us into his van and took off for central Paris as if he'd just robbed a bank'

Call it gentle intuition that something mournful might be coming our way but that morning in Paris, with time to kill, I took myself to Montparnasse Cemetery.

Not to the soaring masterpieces of the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay or Notre Dame, but to a stroll among the dead, austere cuts of stone identifying the resting places of literary giants like Sartre and Maupassant.

Match-day would stretch interminably towards a 9pm kick-off and the granite wilderness of Saint Denis, up on the roof of the city, held little attraction beyond a floodlit Stade de France.

So getting there early made little sense.

Outside the sweeping curves of the stadium, it is an unromantic landscape of industry and tough, marginalised communities that, six years later, would draw the eyes of the world to an extraordinary police shoot-out with terrorists just days after the Bataclan massacre.

Like many of the world’s great stadia, Stade de France is a beautiful contradiction of its surrounds.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni at the end of the game

And on some subsconscious level that was already playing on this journalist’s mind long before Thierry Henry became Dick Turpin.

Two years earlier, those of us harvesting post-midnight quotes in the mixed zone after Ireland’s Rugby World Cup defeat to France emerged from the stadium into a ghost neighbourhood.

The RER line to Gare du Nord had closed for the night and taxi drivers, it became clear, had little appetite for cruising the half-lit streets of Saint Denis.

Now, extra-time meant an even later exit and, accordingly, even less likelihood of an uncomplicated journey back in to Central Paris.

Trust me, such practicalities tug for attention on even the monumental nights.

And this, truly, was one of them, Ireland winning the 90-minute

war with a performance rich in the kind of ambition we all knew, deep down, was unspooling as a statement of independence from the Irish players.

But the story of the night? We covered it, essentially, on hearsay.

Without TV monitors in the section of the press-box housing visiting journalists, only the distant consternation of the players alerted us to Henry’s thievery.

A messenger (non-deadline writer) was immediately despatched inside to the media work-room to gather up the ugly truth.

And afterwards, well into the early hours, Giovanni Trapattoni’s players would sing a unified lament. Pre-VAR meant pre-revisiting the scene of a crime.

Ireland players appeal to the ref after the goal

“FIFA have to take a long, hard look at themselves now” – Damien Duff.

“He (Henry) admitted he cheated and told us we deserved to win. That makes us feel worse.” – Richard Dunne.

“Scandalous. You could see Henry’s face, the smirk” – Liam Lawrence.

“We need the technology” – Sean St Ledger.

We didn’t know then that a certain karma would be coming the way of Les Bleus eight months later in South Africa.

No matter, our concerns were more immediate now. With it long gone 1am by the time four of us exited the stadium, we settled eventually in forlorn vigil beneath a motorway fly-over, now spared even the rumble of traffic overhead.

For half an hour, nothing came. Nothing. Then a van slipped past, its driver eyeing us up intently before doubling back.

Recognising a familiar predicament, his solution brooked no argument.

“Fifty euros each to Champs-Élysées!”

An Algerian fruit-seller, he took our fares in advance, hurried us into a seating area of sweet-smelling pallets and a few crushed strawberry punnets, then took off for central Paris as if he’d just robbed a bank.

And there, without even a single, murmured courtesy, we were offloaded.

No ‘Bonne nuit!’ No ‘Merci beaucoup!’ Definitely no receipt.

And not even the consolation of an open bar.

Ireland's Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring

Daniel McDonnell: 'The Players knew what they had to do – the pain of Paris is the tales it could have created'

The sadness of November 18, 2009 is that one incident rendered everything that went before to a footnote.

It was a special night before the handball. Afterwards, it became a bitter tale of rancour and recriminations that carried us all the way to Christmas. But the clearest image in this mind’s eye was at the same end less than a hour beforehand.

It’s the momentary silence that fell over the stadium as a 61st-minute Liam Lawrence pass split the French defence and Damien Duff bounded through with just Hugo Lloris to beat.

Time appeared to stand still. With Ireland a goal ahead, another away strike would almost certainly seal the deal.

Was this really happening?

In Malahide, 48 hours earlier, Duff spoke of a defiant mood in the Irish camp following the 1-0 home defeat in Croke Park that had extinguished public optimism levels.

“We obviously have to take a few more chances than we usually do,” he said, pointedly. Rather than despondency, there was another atmosphere in the air.

Ireland trained at Gannon Park in those days and interviews were frequently conducted in a hut situated on well-trodden grass next to the team bus. November rain made for slippy conditions and the players sat at the back of the bus got a good laugh out of a journalist taking a comedy fall into the mud in the scramble for a word with Giovanni Trapattoni. (Confession: I was that journalist.)

On the eve of the match, Keane smiled when a dictaphone was placed in front of him and asked if a new pair of jeans had been purchased. This was before a press conference where the Irish captain delivered a particularly striking and upbeat speech about Ireland’s intentions. “We know what we need to do so there are no regrets,” he said.

Still, the gut feeling of the majority was that overturning a deficit on French soil represented a bridge too far. FIFA’s last-minute decision to seed the play-offs, thus guaranteeing Ireland a giant-killing brief, would form the basis of the ‘what if’ post-mortem.

Damien Duff, Republic of Ireland, close to tears after the final whistle

Within minutes of kick-off, it was clear this game had a pulse. Keane (29), Duff (30), Shay Given (33), Richard Dunne (30), Kevin Kilbane (32) and John O’Shea (28) were part of a group that sensed this might be a last World Cup chance.

There are varying versions of what was said on the bus and in the build-up but either way, it was clear that Keane was right. The Irish players knew what they needed to do, and it was different from a typical Trapattoni display.

But there would be regrets.

Duff’s sprint for glory was interrupted by the backtracking Bacary Sagna and he didn’t get a proper shot away with the feet of Lloris executing the block. Was that the chance, we asked?

The sentiment was repeated when Keane was played through by Lawrence and tried to take it around Lloris instead of going for a shot. Wide.

Vagaries of print deadlines times meant that a match report for the English edition of the Irish Independent had to be sent before 10pm whether there was extra-time or not.

A trawl through the email outbox finds the evidence. I’ve no idea if it was ever published, or if an ex-pat in Kilburn woke to a piece with the intro: “A famous 90-minute win for Ireland in Paris, yet their World Cup fate was uncertain as this game dramatically entered extra-time.”

What followed is a blur. A free into the box, a French celebration, Given running from his goal gesticulating, the full-time whistle, that infernal Black Eyed Peas tune, and the smirking Raymond Domenech in his press conference, responding to English questions in French when the hosts hadn’t got around to sending down a translator.

A decade on, a selfish disappointment festers. It comes up with match-going friends of similar age, early ’80s kids that were too young to truly appreciate the significance of Italia ’90 and USA ’94 and too broke to afford a student trek to Japan and Korea in 2002.

We’ll be in our forties, at least, before we see Ireland in a World Cup. The lingering pain of Paris is the stories it could and should have spawned.

Dejected Republic of Ireland supporters after the match

David Kelly: 'The suffering was compounded by buffering for frazzled warriors of the press pack'

Even to this day some of us who were there are gripped by that familiar sense of panic that somehow remains the sole preserve of the sports hack.

It can be heard in the panicked babbling that awakens us from a bad dream. Or the polite entreaties to a thousand different hotel receptionists in five continents.


For those of you not reading the print version of this newspaper, it is quite possible that you might be accessing this via the internet in all manner of places, from the slopes of Val d’Isere to the North Pole, and from Mount Fuji to Waikiki Beach.

Hell, NASA boffins have been able to beam a wireless signal to the moon using powerful lasers. But even NASA, you suspect, might not have been able to help us that night.

When the biggest sports story is unfolding right in front of your very eyes – let us forget momentarily, shall we, about the temporary blindness of the referee, thousands of fans in the stadium and, cough, many of the attending media – the most important thing to do is to transmit it as soon as possible.

It has always been thus, ever since humanity’s first copy boy, Pheidippides, legged it breathlessly from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the victory of the Battle of Marathon, expiring just as he mouthed the words that would appear in the following morning’s Athenian Herald.

Except on this night, so many were having extreme difficulty attempting to tell the biggest story of this, or many other years.

Paris may have long cherished its role as a place of exile for great writing and lavish alcoholic consumption (many of the press pack enjoyed one of these twin virtues, at least).

Getting words down was one thing; submitting them quite another. And that was the problem which confronted and confounded so many on what Irish hacks still call “our November 11th”.

Although built for the 1998 World Cup, the glittering Stade de France was constructed in a sunken bowl; hence, for much of its early life, the Wi-Fi coverage was, frankly, a pile of poo.

So when it came to send the earliest copy from the stadium, the oldest media form was flummoxed by the struggles of the newest media auxiliary. The Wi-Fi.

Everyone struggled to get a signal to signal the drama. Suffering compounded by buffering.

Oddly, I ended up being the saviour of several colleagues thanks to a remarkable piece of equipment from whom I have since, so sadly, become detached.

The Nokia 3210. Except this was no ordinary Nokia 3210. Non monsieur! This was a Nokia 3210 which had formerly been split in two and was now held together with a thin, blue elastic band.

And yet it could harbour the Bluetooth and, with the mobile wireless possibilities also stymied for many, this tiny machine which normally couldn’t even load an internet page or play any music or video was suddenly transporting streams of copy back to Dublin from this godforsaken bunker.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saves at the feet of Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane

And throughout the unfolding drama, the immediacy of modern media was not possible to export, even if the restrictions of wireless may have rendered them redundant anyway.

Facebook existed but not Messenger; Twitter was but an infant, not yet an enfant terrible; there was no Instagram either.

Even if merely a decade ago, this was not an age where the emblematic thumbs up (or down) emoji or ‘like’ were omnipresent.

There were no iPads upon which to broadcast an instant YouTube video; it may still have been MySpace; no Snapchat shorts to be instantly erased upon receipt, no WhatsApp group chats with which to fulminate and froth as one.

Not that one might have been able to get a message through in the first place.

None of us booked a Uber to get home because it didn’t exist (neither do Paris taxis after midnight in les Banlieues but sin scéal eile).

None of us stayed in an Airbnb or used GPS to navigate our way south to the city centre.

None of us paid our laundry bills with BitCoin. (We still don’t, in fairness. Do laundry, that is.) There was no available app to gather together a series of online mood boards and varieties of photos.

It seems almost like an analogue age and, combined with the technical and communication issues, it actually was more like 1989 than 2009.

There weren’t even TV screens in the stadium in order to re-watch the larceny.

Don’t mention the VAR… Ten years on, November 18, 2009 in Paris still prompts outbursts of raw anger.

“What if Ireland had made the World Cup?”

For some of us, it evokes something rather more pressing in every working day, those three simple words forming the most nagging question.


Richard Dunne and Liam Lawrence, right, Republic of Ireland react after the game

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'When the mixed zone became a whirl of rage, frustration and conspiracy theories . . .'

It can often be the coldest, most inhospitable place in the city, even on a warm day.

It’s called the mixed zone and it’s the area which footballers have to walk through en route from the dressing-room to the team bus. It’s where reporters try to persuade the athletes to (a) stop and (b) say something.

Getting them to stage (c), saying something of interest, is another matter as those footballers don’t want to be there and, most times, have nothing to say. One particular player had scored on his international debut (every boy’s dream, no?) but shook his head with contempt when asked to speak for a few seconds. Nothing to say here.

Paris in November 2009 was different. John Lydon, a proud son of Crumlin, once said that anger is an energy, and there was anger and energy from the Irish players after their World Cup dream had been taken away.

Everyone wanted to have their say. Liam Brady and Marco Tardelli, figures who rarely appeared before the media, walked up and down looking for people to vent their anger at. Players usually reticent about doing interviews opened their heart and spoke their minds.

It was a whirl of rage, frustration and conspiracy theories. The mood in that Irish dressing-room was that they were “all” in on it: UEFA, FIFA, the referees, even the kit suppliers.

“Fifa want the big teams in the World Cup. They want France in the World Cup and, it may sound silly, but they want teams sponsored by adidas,” said Damien Duff.

Richard Dunne, Republic of Ireland, with Thierry Henry, France, after the game. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

“Adidas sponsor the World Cup and they sponsor France. Platini has a lot of influence as well. Maybe we’d have had a better chance of going to the World Cup if it was sponsored by Umbro but that’s the way the world goes at the moment.”

Duff’s rage was even more remarkable as he had been an adidas client since the start of his career.

Everyone saw Michel Platini, now in disgrace but then a powerful man as UEFA president, as central to what had happened. “In a few weeks UEFA and Platini will be up in the stands all happy as the French are going to the World Cup. They’re a big nation and us, as a small nation, have been cheated out of the World Cup,” said Shay Given.

Robbie Keane was even more forthright. “Platini is sitting up there on the phone to Blatter, probably texting each other, delighted with the result,” Keane raged.

Richard Dunne saw the UEFA president as the enemy. “Platini wants France there so they are going to get there one way or another. And there’s nothing we can do. The World Cup is run by people who decide who gets there and that’s how it goes. People decide who they want in the World Cup and it’s difficult to take. FIFA run this thing,” said Dunne.

This was Dunne channelling his inner Jack Nicholson: forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.

How about Liam Brady, denied a place at the World Cup as a player, in 1982, due to disputed refereeing decisions? “It’s designed to make sure that the big teams have to go through. Basically, FIFA were saying we want you lot out and this lot in,” Brady said.

Revenge came soon, in the form of France’s collapse at the finals in South Africa, and then Platini’s shuffle into ignominy, but that Irish anger burned on.

Ireland supporters during the match. 2010 World Cup Qualifying Play-off 2nd Leg, France v Republic of Ireland. Stade de France, Saint-Denis, Paris, France. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O’Connor: ‘Le main de Dieu’ and a night of ticker-tape, tears and snapshots of treachery'

The chill hasn’t faded in the 10 years since that fateful November night.

No matter where in the world and regardless of the situation, the opening notes of ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by The Black Eyed Peas bring back that sense of confusion and outrage that engulfed the away section of the Stade de France a decade ago.

Outrage because we knew an injustice had been committed, confusion because we hadn’t a clue what had really happened.

Positioned on the far corner of the Stade de France from where Thierry Henry had diverted the ball into William Gallas’s path, the fans in the away section met the goal with disbelief and disappointment.

All of that effort and brilliant play undone in a moment that unfolded in slow motion before the blue dots in the distance wheeled away in celebration.

When the Irish players started racing towards referee Martin Hansson, we presumed it was an offside.

It was Shay Given who drew our attention to true nature the injustice.

After his complaints fell on deaf ears, the Ireland goalkeeper wheeled towards the visiting section, slamming his glove into his arm to indicate the nature of what had transpired.

Shay being Shay, we were instantly convinced. So, we did the only thing you could do in the pre-Twitter world, we began to text home.

‘What the f*** happened? Shay is going mad’

‘That f***er Henry handballed it. Blatant’


Ireland struggled on, but the result was inevitable.

Damien Duff, Republic of Ireland, shakes hands with Nicolas Anelka, France, at the end of the game

And when the final whistle went, the music started up and gold ticker tape fell from the sky.

The French waved their little tricolours and the Irish players surrounded Hansson one last time, before heading our way to applaud the crowd and wallow in the moment.

It was only when we made our way into Paris that the true nature of what had happened revealed itself.

On the way towards the city, we got a glimpse of what we were missing out on as green-clad hordes lit flares and chanted loudly.

Earlier that evening, Algeria had beaten Egypt to secure their place and the large ex-pat population in the French capital were going crazy, hanging out of car windows chanting ‘One, two, three! Vive l’Algerie!’

If Ireland had joined them in qualifying, it could have been one of the great crossover celebrations.

The French evaporated into the City of Love, but the Irish congregated in town to drown sorrows and debate a decision they still hadn’t seen.

Having narrowly avoided a round of €29 pints across the road from the Moulin Rouge, we reconvened at a small, unremarkable French pub with far more affordable prices.

There, we fed off snapshots of what had transpired until, at 4am, the owner went outside and re-emerged with an early edition of L’Équipe.

‘Le main de Dieu’ (The Hand of God) read the headline, above a picture of the incident in question.

Finally, we saw how obvious Henry’s act of treachery had been.

The next morning, the waiter refused to accept cash for breakfast due to his shame at what had transpired.

Later, another handed out free coffees to Irish fans due to his own guilt at Henry’s footballing crime.

We returned to a changed nation and soon we were being embarrassed by calls to radio phone-ins and calls to be included as a 33rd team.

Once that started, the injustice seemed to fade.

The French seemed to get their comeuppance in South Africa, but their humiliation did little to ease the sense that Ireland should have been there.

And yet, the hurt lingers on and just whenever you thought you were getting over it, you’re having fun at a wedding and then the first few notes of that horrendous song play and you’re back in that land of gold ticker-tape and tears.

Dejected Republic of Ireland players, left to right, Shay Given, Paul McShane, Liam Lawrence, Kevin Doyle and Darron Gibson salute the crowd

Stephen McCarthy: 'Most of the snappers in Paris missed the incident but Henry’s consolation shot soon became iconic'

It is a picture etched in time and the time remains etched upon the moment.

The camera takes the pictures and the pictures tell the stories.

At 11.33 local time in Paris on November 18, 2009 – 11.33 and 34 seconds to be precise, for the camera remembers everything even if the photographer might not – Richard Dunne is lying on the ground within touching distance of my lens.

At 11.33 (and 52 seconds), Thierry Henry, having broken away from a crowd of French players, has spotted Dunne and now sits down beside him.

Now surrounded by TV cameras, maybe two of them, the pair speak for what seems like an age but what in reality is only a few seconds.

Forty-two seconds I can tell from the camera that never lies. Because at 11.34 (and 34 seconds), the pair stood up, embraced and went their separate ways.

I was also eager to get a few car ads in the back; Henry still does a few to this day. Va va voom and all that.

I knew it was a good shot. It felt like the end of something and it probably was. But it started a whole lot more. And it was clear to me that Thierry Henry was central to a story that was already known to everyone in the world but had eluded many of us in the stadium.

I’d already got a text message from Ray McManus back in Dublin. “Get the ref!” We’d seen the famous goal but had been on the opposite end of he pitch, in front of the Irish fans so myself and colleague Dave Maher had only captured a wider view.

In it, we could see Shay Given running, screaming towards the linesman, tapping his hand furiously; Kevin Kilbane was also irate, Damien Duff was haring around.

Players always appeal after a goal but this seemed different. We just didn’t know why.

Martin Hansson and his officials were not the only ones to miss the handball; most of the snappers behind the goal did, too.

And these were some of the best in the business. A play-off involving France was a huge story in world sport and the world’s best photographers were in Paris.

The key to capturing the important moments is to try and focus on the next action; if a player is running down the wing, you’re already trying to capture the header. Always one step ahead, always a split-second in front.

So that’s what most of them did; they focused on William Gallas instead of Henry and so they missed the handball.

They got the goal but that was only half the story. And all of them missed it. Except one guy. To be fair, he was in the right place at the right time but even he would have thought he was taking the wrong photo.

Instead, he caught Henry in the act. We saw the shot in L’Équipe the next morning. I’d say he’d a nice Christmas out of it. (By the way, we never did get the ref; he scarpered pretty quickly!) Back in Dublin, another colleague, Brendan Moran, took pictures of the TV screengrabs and sent them out to the newspapers. He had more front pages the next day then myself and Dave did which we laugh about.

We didn’t see it until the next day in the airport; we sent it back to Dublin and then it made the papers the following day. There was no Twitter or WhatsApp so things moved slower than you think ten years ago.

After the match ended, we were under pressure to get stuff sent back home and the Wi-Fi was terrible. So we had to prioritise.

For such a huge occasion, it’s remarkable how few pictures we actually sent on the night. It was probably 60; in Geneva last month, we sent 350.

Nowadays, you can send in an instant from your camera; back then, you had to transfer files to the laptop and then try and send them. It was clunky and ate time which you didn’t have.

And there was deadline pressure too. It’s nearly 11 at home and national papers usually want stuff before 10 so all of us, writers and snappers, are chasing our tail.

The Dunne/Henry picture has become symbolic since then of the huge event and it shows why it’s important to send Irish people abroad to cover Irish sports events.

I’d only been in the job for two years so the pressure was intense but the excitement was a huge rush.

The picture remained alive for weeks and months because the story did. At the time, I just thought it was a lovely moment.

It’s only afterwards you’re thinking that was a bit ballsy of Henry to pretend to be upset. In the moment, it looked genuine. Maybe it was. Only he could tell you that.

Stephen McCarthy has been a Sportsfile photographer since 2007

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