herald

Monday 11 December 2017

DEFYING HOOLIGANS, DANCING IN A DUNGEON AND TRYING TO SPOT A COW

THE morning after the awful night before should have weighed down the Irish support in Poznan, but there was little time for recriminations.

Unlike those at home, who were left bitterly disappointed, there isn't the same focus on the result here.

Instead it's all about logistics, moving bases and continuing to believe that even if we lose all three matches we'll make sure these moments are the stuff of legend.

Sunday night in Poznan was something I never witnessed before. In the face of huge provocation from Polish hooligans, our fans remained a credit to their country.

There was no violence or repeats of the ugly scenes that we saw earlier, but it was clear that a tiny element was trying to spoil the Irish and Croatian party.

Where normally you might expect riot police to separate supporters from different sides, on this occasion they locked the two together using manpower. The Croats have become surprisingly good allies, singing our chants and trying to adapt them into their own language.

We were united in our disdain for the 50 or so hooded thugs who waited on the edge of the celebrations, looking for anyone to cause trouble with.



tractor

It is only because of the good nature of both sets of fans that nothing major happened, and the Polish riot police who stepped in to keep us safe.

There is nothing normal about trying to enjoy a post-match beer while surrounded by baton wielding officers -- although it must be said that they did their difficult job brilliantly.

For me the party ended with a dance off on the bar counter of what can only be described as a dungeon long after dawn broke.

By that stage hundreds of tired and disappointed Irish fans were already on board the punishing and crammed 3am train to Gdansk.

Hours later the convoys of campervans took off again while others desperately tried to hitch a lift or prayed for a way to make the journey to the beach.

For the moment I've abandoned the Topflight/Herald bus as the group are spending a couple more days in Pila before moving here.

So myself and the Herald photographer were faced with the gruelling drive ourselves. It took most of the day to motor through the vast Polish countryside that offers little in variation for kilometre after kilometre.

The most unexpected observation -- for me at least -- was the total lack of livestock in the roadside fields.

It took nearly four hours of driving before we noticed a cow and it was another hour before we saw our first tractor.

The team have located themselves in Sopot for the duration of the competition and surprisingly their Sheraton hotel is right in the centre of the town, which is a short distance from the training ground in Gydnia and the stadium in Gdansk.

And while the green was not as evident on the streets last night -- where we met former international Kevin Kilbane -- there was no doubting that the Irish masses are set to take over.

Having played their first game here, the Spanish have already a good hold on the tri-city but the avalanche of 'Joxers' over the next 24 hours is likely to overthrow their dominance.

Now let's hope it's the same on the pitch . . .

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