The wait is nearly over and as Ireland’s World Cup campaign begins this afternoon, the green hordes spread from Bristol and across the Severn River will gather in Cardiff hoping for a win against Canada. For some, it’s been a journey more than a year in the making.
Take Dave Hackett from Waterford and his three friends. Dave bought a camper van “especially for the occasion” on donedeal.ie last October. He spent “a few quid” doing it up and now he’s here, camped within earshot of the Millennium Stadium on the eve of a World Cup opener.
“We booked the campsite 12 months ago and it was nearly booked out then,” Dave said. He’ll get repeat business out of it — he’s back in a few weeks for the French match, alongside his mate Donal O’Brien, originally from Mitchelstown.
Today’s game is the only one on the horizon for John Butler from Kildare and Fermoy native Liam McCarthy, but all the quartet care about now is a win — and a big one at that. “If we don’t win by more than 30 points it’ll be very disappointing,” Liam said.
Cardiff had a distinctly Irish air last night as the trickle of supporters turned into a flood ahead of this afternoon’s match.
The on/off rainfall helped the deluge of Irish supporters to acclimatise, while that delightful UK tradition of abandoning work at lunchtime on a Friday meant that Cardiff’s city centre was already buzzing yesterday afternoon.
Tommy Bowe, not starting today, could be seen ambling around the Marriott Hotel, while the nearby Walkabout bar had the tricolour and the maple leaf flags flying.
Inside were a group of Ulster fans who’ve travelled over for the game. The six friends, all from Omagh having travelled via Dublin or Belfast, had a familiar tale of woe over the lack of affordable accommodation in Cardiff.
“We’re staying in Newport,” explained Gareth Lyons. When I ventured that that seemed a good distance away, his friend Peter Graham said: “Tell me about it.”
Apparently hotels are asking up to stg£450 (€616) a night this weekend per person. Distance is all relative, however; Steven Giboney actually works in Canada but has flown over to cheer on Ireland.
Earlier in the day fans continued the exodus from Dublin, Cork, Belfast and elsewhere. In Cork Airport, Nicholas Geasley from Douglas and his friend Jason Lees — from Rathcormack via Bristol — were among those gearing up for today’s match.
The pair have attended plenty of Munster games but this was their first time to Cardiff to cheer on Ireland.
“Ireland is going to hammer them,” Nicholas declared, although he was a little more circumspect about our chances of overall success. “It depends —if we can avoid New Zealand, we will go further,” he said. “So we have to beat the French.”
That’s a battle for another day and instead they were looking forward to hitting the bars near the Millennium Stadium, familiar to plenty of Munster fans from years past.
Also making a weekend of it were the only two Canadian fans boarding the flight to Bristol, Alberta natives Robert Leahy and Colin Barrett.
As the names suggest, however, there have split loyalties: “My mother is Irish and we came over and had my son baptised in Kinsale,” Robert said.
“We left the wives, they’re going to Dublin and we’re going to Cardiff.”
Robert’s youngest son, Donncha, also happens to be named after a prominent, recently retired Irish international.
“The way I look at it is I’ll support the underdog tomorrow and Ireland for the World Cup,” he said.
The duo won’t be too upset if today’s game goes according to the form book. “I definitely think we have a good chance against Romania,” Robert said, looking ahead. “And I would love to see one of those big upsets.”
No offence, Robert, but a few million people at home and the tens of thousands wearing green in Cardiff hope it doesn’t happen today.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved