The team line-up for Ireland’s latest World Cup clash against Romania may have been much changed from the opening weekend, but the hordes of travelling fans remain as reliable as old boots, no matter what the occasion.
Thousands of Irish packed the traditional home of English football to the rafters to see Joe Schmidt’s men put Romania to the sword in a solid performance witnessed by a record attendance of over 89,000.
The fans were in full voice after 20 minutes when Tommy Bowe went over for the game’s opening try. Bowe was followed over the line a little later by man- of-the-match Keith Earls, who landed a brace to equal the Irish World Cup try scoring record held by a certain Mr Brian O’Driscoll.
A staple of all lopsided sporting contests, the Mexican Wave, reared its head with about 30 minutes to go, before Bowe added a second and Chris Henry and Rob Kearney crashed over to give the travelling fans more to cheer about.
As expected, the Irish, clad in all 40 shades of green and a few more adventurous costumes besides, made for an atmosphere to rival any seen on home turf at the Aviva Stadium. Karen O’Leary of Sunday’s Well in Cork was among the revellers over for the game, as was Tracy Mullins from Meath.
“It was a very impressive performance and great to see Tommy Bowe back on the scoresheet. It was lovely to see Keith Earls get a couple of scores too. When Paulie came on it really gave it a lift too as the game went on.
“The backs really showed up in the first half and the forwards in the second half.
“I even got to meet Ireland’s youngest supporter over here, 13-month-old Leah and her parents, so it was fantastic,” Tracy said.
Tracy’s dad chipped in with the prediction that O’Connell’s charges would squeak past Argentina, having topped the group, and after that “anything is possible”.
The smattering of Romanian fans who made the long trip across Europe to follow their team added to the fun of the occasion and brought another splash of colour to a tournament that has seen the so-called minnows create some of its most joyous moments. Humble in defeat, the opposition fans wished Schmidt’s men the best going forward, with many predicting a final appearance for the boys in green.
That friendly atmosphere was evident from early in the day as Wembley’s official fanzine bustled with activity.
A steady stream of supporters filed in to soak up the atmosphere and watch the day’s early games, with Australia, home to many an Irish man and woman, easing past Uruguay before two more countries with strong links to ours did battle, with Scotland overcoming the United States.
As if the scene wasn’t green-tinted enough, a little Irish music was even heard.
Before the game, the Ulster contingent were well represented, with London-born James Byrne, Derry’s Sarah Friedlander and Elaine Coughlan all tipping Tommy Bowe to cross the whitewash — a prediction that would have yielded a return had they taken a trip to the bookmakers.
“I told him he’s only allowed pick Ulstermen,” joked Sarah who, in another spot-on prediction, added that a solid win and a bonus point was what was to be expected.
The spirit of the day was epitomised by Gerard Finnegan, an Irish supporter 50-odd years in London and clad head to toe in the compulsory big game leprechaun outfit. Predicting a 30-point win, his Roscommon accent as strong as ever, Gerard symbolises what has made this World Cup on our doorstep one to savour so far.
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