Sunday 21 January 2018

Ireland survive Italy dogfight but are now underdogs for quarter-finals

Shaun and Lauren Mills at the Olympic Stadium for the nervy win over Italy
Shaun and Lauren Mills at the Olympic Stadium for the nervy win over Italy

It was a win - but not a thing of beauty.

The Green Army was out in force, but there was a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle blew and we survived to fight another day.

Perhaps it was the presence of a glittering bishop that saw Ireland over the line in the end.

Dermot Keany, originally from Athenry, Co Galway, but now living in Brighton, said that there's always a good atmosphere when the Boys in Green line out.

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Dermot was dressed head to toe in sequins as a green-robed bishop with a tricolour mitre.

His wife Victoria was similarly clad as a bishop, while their daughter Kathleen (9) was a junior cleric in long robes.

"There's a real feel-good factor - that's the beauty of following the Irish," he said.

READ MORE: Nervy Ireland edge past Italy and into the quarter-finals

Despite the tense performance, which saw Ireland dominate through the first half but faced a dogfight throughout the second, Dermot was optimistic for the next fixtures.


"We have a chance to win the whole thing," he said, gesturing with sparkling expansiveness in the unseasonably hot sun.

"It's the first time we've had a coach who was really on the same page as the players and that they all buy into."

Dubliners Tim Ryan (24), Michael Casey (24), Christian Fitzgerald (25) and Gary Blackburn (24), who are working in London, had invested in their gruesome collection of matching shamrock suits, which they found online.

"They cost as much as a jersey," said Michael. But much more effective, they all agreed.

"They've paid for themselves in morale," said Tim.

Over from Clonakilty, Co Cork, for their first big international, Hannah (10) and Eddie (8) were having green shamrocks stencilled on to their faces before the game.

And they were lucky enough to have tickets. For those who didn't, there was always the consolation of the Fanzone, where a big screen had been set up to watch the action.

Hillary Gray, from Mona- ghan, and Aisling Smyth, from Meath, were blown away by the sheer number of fans.

"We weren't expecting this at all," said Hillary.

Living in the UK for many years, John and Anne Pryne, originally from Limerick and Tipperary respectively, had come to support the side with daughters Siobhan, Niamh and Sinead.

They had even managed to shoehorn an English boyfriend into a green jersey.

He wore it like a particularly itchy suit of armour. The host nation might be out of the World Cup themselves - but allegiances are not so easily switched.

Inside the Olympic Stadium, the Irish were a flabbergasting sea of green among the 53,187 attendance. But it was nervy throughout.

Even head coach Joe Schmidt admitted he couldn't relax.

"I was worried before the game, I'm perpetually worried and with good reason," he said.

"When it didn't happen today, as we suspected it might not, we almost put pressure on ourselves and were a little bit lucky to escape."

Ireland face France in Cardiff to fight it out for the top spot in Pool D, with the winners taking on the Argentinians in the last eight.

Even the coach knows Ireland are still the underdogs.

"I don't think either of the opposition we'll have in the quarter-final will be easy at all," Schmidt said.

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