An already legendary victory over Italy on Wednesday has propelled Ireland into the last 16 in the Euro 2016 international soccer tournament, setting up a fateful encounter with hosts France on Sunday and gripping a nation that had feared its chance of progress had slipped away.
After a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Belgium, Ireland went out needing a win against a side fancied by some to reach the final. Anything else would have not only have meant their exit from the tournament.
Despite dominating the match, Ireland lacked a decisive moment in front of goal before Robbie Brady delivered a moment to spark a result for the ages. After 85 minutes of a nation willing the ball into the net, there was an explosion of joy and tears streamed in the stands and around the country.
The scenes at full time will live long in the memory, with manager Martin O’Neill embracing his assistant, Roy Keane, and the players charging about in delirium. Brady called his goal an “out-of-body experience” as he was embraced by hysterical friends and family in the stands.
The win rekindled memories of shock victories in Stuttgart in 1988, Genoa in 1990 and Giants Stadium in 1994. Against all odds, the current squad scored a last-gasp stunner and set up a special rematch.
Every Irish person knows what happened when Ireland last played France on French soil. It was the 2010 World Cup play-off, second leg in Paris and it was the night when Thierry Henry’s handball helped France to the finals in South Africa. Ireland now have a shot at revenge.
More than 50,000 fans are due to arrive in Lyon, France’s second city over the next 24 hours, but many fans have no cash or no tickets.
Wayne Durnin and Ray Fenlon, from Crumlin, travelled over to France in a nine-seater Ford Transit van with a group of pals and have been following the team around the country since, but finances have dwindled.
“When we beat the Italians in Lille, we headed straight down to Lyon,” said Wayne. “We had no accommodation booked after the Italian game. If we got beaten we were going to head straight to Calais and then home. When we won, we headed back to the square in Lille, slept there for a few hours. At 5.30am we started driving.”
Mayors in Paris, Bordeaux and Lille also praised Green Army members for their trouble-free and good humoured behaviour so far. Lyon city officials have said they are delighted they secured Ireland for their last 16 match. But Irish fans also face a desperate scramble for tickets for the clash with France.
Lyon’s new Stade Olympique Lyonnaise has a 60,000 capacity - but the Football Association of Ireland’s allocation was fewer than 5,000.
The number of tickets available on resale websites and being sold by touts trebled yesterday as supporters from other countries began offloading tickets.
“Tickets are the problem alright,” said Ciaran Hickey from Dublin. “We’re heading down to Lyon by train from Lille and Paris. We’re OK for accommodation, but we haven’t heard a thing about tickets,” he said. “The longer it goes on, the less hopeful I am. But we’d love to be there.”