Last ditch-ticket hunt as 50,000 fans get ready to roar on Ireland in Lyon
A startling 50,000 Irish fans are making their mark on Lyon as our Euro 2016 campaign hits make-or-break point.
Ireland face France in the southern city tomorrow. Legions of the Green Army contingent - heartbroken at having to return home after the group stages - have been replaced by thousands of fresh fans eager to savour a taste of the revenge mission against Les Bleus.
The Irish have never forgiven Thierry Henry for his infamous handball in a 2009 World Cup play-off match, which cost Ireland a place in South Africa.
More than 50,000 fans are due to arrive in France's second city over the next 24 hours, buoyed by reinforcements from home.
An estimated 20,000 Irish fans are resorting to desperate measures to make it to Lyon. Some are even travelling via Madrid, Turin, Zurich and Munich to keep costs down.
A further 30,000 are devastated at the prospect of having no option but to return home after two weeks in France that rival Euro 88 and Italia 90.
"I'd love to stay. We've had an absolute ball over here. But I reckon we'll have to head home," Niall O'Connor from Lucan in Dublin said.
Niall, who attended Euro 16 with seven friends from Lucan and Palmerstown, said the Lille victory over Italy will live long in Irish memories.
Rob Feeney said Irish fans were exhausted after the past fortnight, but were being kept going by adrenalin.
"It'll be magic against the French in Lyon. But I still reckon Lille will be our Italia 90 moment," he said.
Kilkenny man Jimmy Dunne (62) is in Lyon with his wife Eleanor (60) their son Ian (39) and friends Gar Reidy (60) and 38-year-old Liam McEvoy.
"We had full faith in the team from the start. We have booked flights home next Monday, because we have to go back then. We can come back for the quarter-finals," Eleanor said.
Gar said that the partying was starting to take its toll. "It's tough, it's murder at my age."
Wayne Durnin (40) and Ray Fenlon (36), from Crumlin, were playing a game of football alongside the River Rhone.
They travelled over in a nine-seater Ford Transit van with a group of pals and have been following the team around the country since.
"When we beat the Italians in Lille, we headed straight down to Lyon," said Wayne.
"We had no accommodation booked after the Italian game. If we got beaten we were going to head straight to Calais and then home.
"When we won, we headed back to the square in Lille, slept there for a few hours. At 5.30am we started driving."
The pair said that the finances were dwindling.
As fans slowly descended on Lyon last night, a gang gathered outside Johnny's Kitchen - an Irish bar on Rue St George owned by Rathfarnham native Adrian Walsh.
He was in Lille to watch Ireland beat Italy.
"On Thursday morning I was phoning all the beer distributors and saying 'You know the order I put in for this weekend, forget about it'.
"I just put in the biggest beer order I've ever done ever in my life."
Dad-of-two Adrian said he ordered 250 kegs in total, consisting of Guinness, lager and cider.
His daughter Julia (2) and baby son Ronan were dressed in green last night ahead of the game.
But unlike Lille, where the overwhelming majority of Irish fans got tickets for the clash with Italy in Stade Pierre Mauroy, Irish fans face a desperate scramble for tickets for the clash with France.
Lyon's new Stade Olympique Lyonnaise has a 60,000 capacity - but the Football Association of Ireland's allocation was fewer than 5,000. This comes as more tickets are starting to appear on the black market.
The number of tickets available on resale websites and being sold by touts trebled yesterday as supporters from other countries began offloading tickets.
"Tickets are the problem alright," said Ciaran Hickey from Dublin.
"We're heading down to Lyon by train from Lille and Paris. We're OK for accommodation, but we haven't heard a thing about tickets," he said.
"The longer it goes on, the less hopeful I am. But we'd love to be there."
One family from Clare has already committed to spending €4,000 on tickets for games all the way to the final in the hope that Ireland progress. Eoin Murphy from Ennis bought eight tickets for each group game and four more for the knock-out stages.
Lyon city officials admitted they were delighted they secured Ireland for their last 16 match.
Mayors in Paris, Bordeaux and Lille also praised Green Army members for their trouble-free and good humoured behaviour so far.