And so, back to reality. Irish fans returned home yesterday, some bleary-eyes and a little bedraggled, but all filled with optimism after a thumping World Cup win against Canada.
As more than one supporter remarked, “it was like a home game” — a fitting description for an encounter which resulted in a handsome win in front of a 68,000 plus crowd, most of whom were in green. Ahead of the game, every type of costume seemed to be in play — a gathering of bishops holding beer cans here, a group of leprechauns there, even one pair who dressed up as the Super Mario brothers.
The Canadians added to the sense of festival with bear trap hats and plenty of Mounties on show.
But there are amateurs, and there are professionals. For the latter, a group from Cork City deserve special mention. The gang, incorporating John Keane from Sunday’s Well, Tony O’Connor from Montenotte, Liam McLaughlin from Castletownshend, and others, are dedicated followers of costume. Dressed as Vikings, they were such a hit at one end of Westgate St near the Millennium Stadium that passing tourists were asking to get their photo taken with them.
“The costumes have evolved over the 16 years,” said John. The Viking motif is in part down to the fact that they conquered Dublin — a positive if you’re a Munster fan — and because they’d tried other costumes along the way, including Roman centurions. John recalled how the Italian police were so taken with them at one Six Nations match that they featured on their website for a month afterwards.
But what about the match they’d just seen?
“You can’t gauge from this game,” said Liam. “They need to peak for the French game.”
All were satisfied with the winning margin, as it was in and around what they’d forecasted the night before, and they were happy with the stadium experience, although to say the roof was nearly blown off would be an exaggeration.
“The fact that there was a Mexican wave said it all,” John said. With the result in the bag midway through the opening half, it was understandable that the fans in the stadium kicked back a little.
They know bigger battles are to come. Piper John McShane, a Cardiff man with Irish roots, had fans singing the ‘Galway Shawl’ and the ‘Fields of Athenry’ after the game as Cardiff city centre became an Irish statelet, in full carnival mode.
Yesterday morning it was a case of boats and planes as people returned home, among them the Downes “and extended Downes” from Sligo.
While John Keane and co stayed in Bristol, Lorraine, Eilish, Willie, Fionn, Fearghal and Fabian Downes, as well as Anne-Marie Martin and Ciara Drennan, were staying in Newport. They travelled over last Wednesday, hired a mini-bus, and took in a visit to Stonehenge along the way.
Fearghal, a student in Galway, proudly showed a photograph taken in the official fanzone, where you can run down a carpeted area with a ball and dive to score a try, with the camera capturing you in midair.
“The fanzone was absolutely brilliant,” Ciara enthused. She didn’t have tickets for any other group games but said she would consider returning to Cardiff just to soak up the atmosphere. “The organisation is just brilliant,” she said.
And so, on to London and Wembley for what is likely to be a similar story on the pitch and maybe a different one off it, but with a return to Cardiff just weeks away.
As the fans sang as the Canadian bus turned the corner away from the stadium on Saturday evening, “cheerio”.
But not for too long.
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