The good old days return … now for Euro 2016!

I was one of the lucky Ireland fans who managed to snare tickets for Monday night’s second leg against Bosnia & Herzegovina. I’ve been to quite a few Ireland games in my time including famous nights against Yugoslavia (remember them?) and the mighty mountaintop otherwise known as Lichtenstein.

  What makes Irish international matches like Monday’s 2-0 win over a technically accomplished Bosnian team so wonderful is the atmosphere generated by the fans.

  ‘The Lansdowne Roar’ has been alive and well during this qualification campaign and not for the first time the players responded with a blood and guts performance.

  It was the first time I had made my way up to Dublin from Roscommon for any match and while it was a night to remember I don’t think I’ll rely on the Dart and Luas post-match again!

  Being from Dublin (we all have our cross to bear) – now living in Roscommon – I rarely get to see how fans from outside the Pale travel to and from matches. After Monday night my admiration for such fans has increased, and that also goes for the punters who frequent GAA HQ or, as we call it in Dublin, our home pitch. I mean Croker, definitely Croker.

  The atmosphere was electric in and around the ground and the small minority of visiting fans who weren’t silent during the minute’s silence just served to increase the decibel levels amongst the home fans.

  It’s something the Aviva seems to reserve exclusively for the Irish football team, or maybe it’s just something football fans generate better than other fans. It’s this tribal, partisan mentality which, when directed properly, creates spine-tingling atmospheres.

  Every Irish throw-in, corner, tackle, header, hair-flick (!) was cheered to the rafters as the fans tried to push the team to France by sheer will. They weren’t the only ones either, as Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane feverishly moved players around the pitch using some variation of Jedi mind tricks.

  The penalty when it arrived may have seemed quite harsh but in that frenzied France-bound crowd the referee had little option but to give it. The twelfth man and all that. Jonathan Walters coolly slotted home to send the Green Army into raptures.

  Walters is our Dirk Kuyt, he’s the player nobody pretends to be in the playground, but this morning kids across Ireland are barging into smaller kids and smashing footballs through crowds of bodies.

  Walters doubled his tally and sent Ireland to France in the second half after being found by another fan favourite, Robbie Brady, who used his wand-like left foot to cause havoc in the Bosnian defence.

  Celebrations from players, fans, backroom staff and Michael D. Higgins followed as us bucks from the country made our way towards Heuston and trains bound for Cork and Galway. There was a quick stop at Supermacs along the way where some wag wondered: ‘Has Jack Grealish has ever had a Mighty Mac?’ Last night was his loss!

  Next summer, the whole island will be in France. Let that sink in for a minute: this tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic has produced TWO teams of the 24 at Europe’s elite international soccer tournament.

  Let’s hope both sets of fans create the kind of atmosphere Irish football supporters are used to at these events.