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Friday 9 December 2016

We cried, we screamed, we cheered as Robbie's winner made soccer history

Ireland's Robbie Brady greets his partner Kerrie Harris after the match.
Ireland's Robbie Brady greets his partner Kerrie Harris after the match.
Republic of Ireland supporters. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Irish fans react to Ireland's goal against Italy in Lille. Photo: Mark Condren
Chloe Tangney and Steve Tangney from Limerick celebrate Ireland's goal against Italy in Lille. Photo: Mark Condren

Stuttgart in 1988, Genoa in 1990, New Jersey in 1994 and now in Lille in 2016.

Robbie Brady etched his name into the history books last night with his 85th-minute winner against Italy at Euro 2016 in Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille.

We haven’t won a game in the penultimate stages of the European Championships since Ray Houghton buried the English in Germany 28 years ago.

But last night, just before 11pm in France, a 24-year-old from  Baldoyle brought that run to an end with a deft header that ensured we progress to the last 16. Immediately after the match, Robbie ran to the ecstatic green hordes and embraced his girlfriend Kerrie Harris as Irish supporters in the stadium roared in delight at one of our greatest-ever sporting achievements.

We cried, we screamed and cheered ourselves hoarse. The Green Army out-numbered the Azzurri fans by almost four to one in the city’s new stadium, making their final group game in northern France more akin to a home game in Dublin.

“I can’t believe it – I just can’t bloody believe it,” said a hoarse Willie Power from Tallaght.

Chanting

“I wasn’t planning on being here. I was planning to go home after the Bordeaux game, but a friend picked up a handy ticket and I decided to head to Lille,” he said. Other fans predicted “Robbie” will be the most popular boy’s name in Ireland over the next 12 months.

“This ranks alongside Italia ‘90,” Jim Ryan from Cork said.

The stadium had been transformed into a sea of chanting green from 7pm. With the roof closed, it was hotter than Dollymount beach in a rare heatwave.

The Azzurri had done us before. Toto Schillaci and Italia ‘90. But last night the Irish mood was one of defiance. Win or bust. It was that simple.

Shane Long, a former Tipp hurler, wouldn’t have received as many belts on the Gaelic fields, with the Italians handing out plenty of unpunished blows to our brave striker.

Jeff Hendrick flashed one wide. Close. Daryl Murphy’s header was saved. Closer.

Then, two minutes before half-time, James McClean was taken clearly out of it in the Italian box – but there was no penalty from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan. Was it revenge for knocking Romania out in that famous 1990 shootout we asked?

The second half ebbed and flowed. Tackling, harrying, hassling, pleading, encouraging and sweating – and that was just the stands. Italy hit the post. Christ.

The hero of the Swedish match, Wes Hoolahan missed our best chance. Oh Wes. But then, fate, Wes and Robbie determined this Irish Tour de France would continue. Hoolahan whipped a ball in, Brady’s sweet head found the net. Utter pandemonium. The stadium roof threatened to collapse.

Bedlam

Eight more minutes took two-and-a-half hours to pass and then more bedlam. Fans cried, hugged, laughed, jumped, sang, smiled and cried a bit more.

By 11pm, the roars of the celebrating fans could have been heard across the border in Belgium some 20km away.

“It all boiled down to the Sweden match. If they’d won that, a draw would have done tonight. They did it the hard way but, my God, what a match to be at,” said a disbelieving Pat Malone from Ballinteer, Dublin.

“I’m supposed to fly home on Friday. But there’s no way I’m going home now,” he added.

For other fans, the great memories of Euro 16 will never fade. David Walsh from Sligo attended the French tournament with his friends Luke McDonnell and Stephen Martin from Sligo and Shane McCarthy and Eoin Forde from Waterford.

“It’s been brilliant. The craic in Lille has been absolutely unbelievable,” David said.

What’s next? France in Lyon on Sunday afternoon.

Oi, Thierry Henry, do you remember that handball? Time for revenge.

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