Never come between a man and his football.
That’s certainly the lesson taught by Corkmen Jonathan Foley, Eoin Donworth, Shane O’Reilly, Tom Good and Sam Hegarty outside the Tír na nÓg pub in Lille yesterday.
Their attendance at the Euros was only decided in recent weeks, but the ups and downs of their trip to the match tonight came at a personal cost for one of their group. “It all started in The Beer Garden [a pub near Turner’s Cross] before Cork City hosted Dundalk two weeks ago,” Jonathan said.
“One of the lads entered a competition on 2FM, and won tickets, but his girlfriend missed the phone call [from the station] to get the tickets. We said ‘lads, will we just go?’ and we got onto Aer Lingus and off we went,” he said.
“He broke up with her,” one of the others chimed in.
“Done. Out the gap,” he said.
The course of supporting your team never did run smooth but, despite missing out on free entry to tonight’s game, the gang got sorted with second-hand tickets and accommodation via Airbnb.
“Seven lads in a four-bed,” one of the men said.
The lads’ accommodation may be cosy but it’s not as tightly packed as the cellar in the Tír na nÓg pub.
Pub owner Alan Sheehan said: “It’s jointed down there, full of barrels. We’ve every man, woman and child we can get our hands on pulling beer. And it won’t be enough.”
While he described the demand on staff and stock as ‘intimidating’, Alan said the mood around the pub is certainly lighter than earlier in the group stages.
“There hasn’t been a big Euros buzz here yet, more fearful when the English and Russians have been here, but this madness, good craic,” he said.
“We closed on the Thursday, a troop of hooligans came through the square here on the Wednesday at 11 o’clock escorted by police and there was about 100 or 150 of them. It scared the bejaysus out of me to be honest.
“We closed up shop, we knew the Irish were coming this week so we said ‘we’ll shut for a day, let them go and give everybody a bit of a rest’,” he said.
Archie Laffan from Midleton, Co Cork, came to France just for the final game of the group stages and found the atmosphere every bit as good as the coverage suggested.
“We arrived on Sunday and it’s been building up to this atmosphere here today,” he said. “It’s just insane. I’ve been on holidays all over the world but when you come out with these people it’s unbelievable.”
Dublin man Alan Maxwell peddled his way here for a cause close to his heart: “I’ve done the pub to Paris. I cycled from Arthur’s Bar on Thomas St in Dublin, took the ferry from Dublin Port to Hollyhead, then cycled 600km in three days to London where I took the Eurostar to Paris. All on my own.
“My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago, he’s been fighting it and I’ve always wanted to go to the Euros,” he explained. “So I combined the two. I figured I’d do something nice and go support the lads.”
He described it as ‘the most difficult thing I’ve ever done’, and was spared a mugging by Parisian stall traders near Gare du Nord who came to his aid when thieves attempted to steal his bike. To date, Alan has raised about €5,000 for ARC Men’s cancer support and for Breast Cancer Ireland.
Despite not having tickets, the Guinness employee’s bosses sorted him for both tonight’s game and for the Sweden match on hearing of his charitable efforts.
On our best behaviour as we plot Great Escape
Here we go — game day.
While Martin and Roy figure out how to do the Italian Job, many of us will try to figure out the Great Escape back to our respective lodgings after tonight’s late kick-off.
Thankfully, there is solidarity among those of us unfortunate enough to be stuck outside Lille, and among the clientelle at the bar in O’Malley’s in Tournai there have been murmurs of a possible post-match bus for the exiles residing in the Belgian town which lies to the east of tonight’s host city.
With the last train home from Lille leaving at around 8.20pm Irish time tonight, needless to say we won’t be on it.
Our own convoluted plan to kill a few birds with one stone came unstuck, with the scheme having too many elements that could go wrong for comfort.
We had looked into dropping the van back to Paris early this morning, getting the TGV back to Lille, and spending tonight on a friend’s apartment floorspace — as an alternative to the original plan which was to head back to the campsite tonight with a view to being fresh as daisies tomorrow morning to return the camper.
However the rental agency’s long lunch hours and the need to be at the stadium tonight in good time for security checks meant there were too many things that could go wrong for us to risk missing tonight’s game. Get to the agency after their noon break, and we would be in serious pressure to make it back to Lille in time for kick-off. With the unpredictability of Paris’ traffic congestion, it is a risk we’re not willing to take.
So tonight, regardless of the result, we’ll be on good behaviour, knowing that after returning the van tomorrow morning we have a night in Paris ahead of us to either toast the Republic of Ireland’s unlikely progress to the last 16, or to carry out the postmortem on our Euro 2016 efforts.
Either way, at least one of us has to be on that flight back to Cork on Friday — whether I’ll be on it as well all depends on if we do the business tonight.
Come on you Boys in Green!
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