herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Hope slowly died but the capital fans sang on

FANS who braved Dublin's sodden streets to watch the match said their spirits are still not dampened.

Irish fans are the best in the world - and at home in Dublin they did the side proud: there was huge optimism for at least a draw.

The soggy crowd put up a brave show of support for the boys in green.

The capital's loudest and noisiest fans even got their hands on vuvuzelas to do their part.

But it wasn't long before the sinking realisation set in that our players were clearly outclassed.

Dublin city centre haunt Sinnott's was an underground pool of green before kick-off.

Pre-match banter sealed the anticipation, despite the odds, as distant dreams of reaching the quarter-finals seemed almost tangible.

In the Submarine Bar in Crumlin, the eager fans were boisterous and upbeat.

Optimistic

"I'm very optimistic," 28-year-old Richard Boland said. "If they lose, you still have to admire them for the fact that they got to the tournament."

"My head says not a chance, but my heart says we'll do it," Darren Delacey, 25, from Inchicore, said.

But others in Sinnots were more realistic: Kevin Ryan (26) from Knocklyon accurately predicted a 4-0 defeat.

To be fair, we were playing against world-class opponents.

"I don't think it's going to happen," Keith O'Brien, 26, from Tallaght affirmed, before kick-off approached.

The crowd flinched in unison as the realisation of another early goal set in -- thanks to a belter by Torres.

With Ireland's defence holding off the Spanish for the rest of the first half, the tricoloured crowd could stream off for a smoke at half-time, still shrouded in a waning optimism.

Derrick O'Rourke (28) from Portrane knew defeat was inevitable, but had another plan in mind.

"We probably won't win tonight," he said, "but I'm all for kicking it to the Italians."

Pals

Derrick is set to join nine other pals in Poland on Saturday and he plans to jet off tomorrow.

In the midst of the Irish fans, Eva Aguado (24) from Toledo, Spain, delicately gushed about her love for Ireland.

"I am supporting both Spain and Ireland," she said. "It's amazing here and I love the Irish people -- it's very easy to make friends here."

As the crowd reassembled for the second half, spirits were cautiously high -- surely Ireland could still bring it back to a draw?

Ciaran Hickey, flanked with three pretty ladies including his girlfriend, Ailbhe Towell took a not-so risky bet.

"I'll take off my shirt and burn my chest-hair if they win," he vowed.

"We'll definitely watch the next match and have a consolation party afterwards. With Trap on our side, we won't beat Italy: he will."

Agitated

As Fernando Torres, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas effortlessly cemented their victory the mood thickened; fans cursed and the crowd grew agitated -- the optimism was gone. Unlike in many other countries, where sporting disappointments often lead to aggression, Ireland's fans quickly changed their tune -- they accepted the reality of their fate and cheered on their team with booming "Ole,ole,oles".

When the final whistle blew our chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages, fans in Crumlin were left uncertain of how long it would be before Ireland would make it to another major tournament.

Supporters were on their feet, clapping, and continued singing the Fields of Athenry with pride and presence. One fan who was up on the balcony took his top off and spun it in the air.

You wouldn't have known that Ireland had just lost.

Can Ireland defeat Italy, or will they be going for the hat-trick when it comes to their state of play in this championship? "Trapp knows his team inside out, so there's every chance," Darren O'Connor, 28, from Drimnagh, said.

"All I can say is, 'Well done, lads, still one to go'," Barry Marx, 39, from Walkinstown, roared.

Triumphing over the reigning champions may have been near to impossible, but at least we can say we tried.

hnews@herald.ie

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