Friday 19 January 2018

Beaten but unbowed, Green Army limping on to Lille showdown

Irish fans Sean Nyhan, John Waldron and Shane Quinlan with their tickets
Irish fans Sean Nyhan, John Waldron and Shane Quinlan with their tickets
Liam McCarthy from Cork and Michael Dennehy from Kilkenny
Irish fans Chloe Prendergast, Sinead Ray, Ann Donnelly, Roisin Gallagher, Orla Core and Rachel Fitzpatrick from Dublin in Bordeaux
Irish fan Kristin McKenzie from Tralee in Co Kerry in Bordeaux

The disappointed but defiant Green Army have limped on to Lille, determined to deliver a Euro '16 Italian takeaway.

An estimated 50,000 Irish fans have started the exhausting 860km trek to Lille. They know that Belgium's emphatic 3-0 win over Ireland left our hopes of making the last 16 of the tournament dependent on a win over already-qualified Italy.

Last Saturday was the 22nd anniversary of Ireland's famous World Cup win over Italy, thanks to a Ray Houghton goal.

"We're just praying it's a good omen," Mark Sullivan from Finglas said.


An estimated 80,000 Irish fans are in the Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Royan and Arcachon areas and are now beginning the march to northern France.

The drive from Bordeaux to Lille is almost twice the distance from Killarney to Belfast.

Thousands more Irish supporters who returned home after the Paris match are now planning to return for Ireland's critical final group game.

Green Army fans are adamant that Ireland can deliver against Italy on Wednesday, but still regret missed opportunities.

"It all boils down to the draw against Sweden - if they'd won that, a draw with Italy would see us through," Conor Grubb from Letterkenny, Donegal, said.

But Damien McCaul from Cavan said Ireland, having already beaten world champions Germany, could clinch a win over the Italians, who are expected to rest a number of key players for the knock-out stages. "It's all still to play for. But the Belgium result was a disappointment, there's no hiding that," he said.

Eoghan Cunnane from Corbally in Limerick was travelling to Lille with seven friends.

"We are going to keep on going and make sure we have the craic," he said.

"The group is upside down and that is going to change on Wednesday."

Irish fans won yet more plaudits for their good behaviour in Bordeaux and for their rapport with Belgium's Red Devils fans.

Pubs including The Connemara, The Blarney Stone and Casey's reported a roaring trade from both sets of fans.

However, security was tightened still further given the terror arrests in Belgium on Saturday, when police foiled an attempt by a terror network to attack fan zones in Brussels and other Belgian towns.

However, the good news is that there is fresh hope of picking up match passes as many Italian fans are selling their tickets to prepare for the Azzurri's next round.

"I've already seen dozens of tickets on reputable fan sites being offered for sale by Italian fans for face value," said Dave Power from Clondalkin.

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