‘Best fans in the world’ heading home after hosts end Republic’s Euro 2016 run
Irish fans kept on singing despite their devastation as the Republic crashed out of Euro 2016 at the hands of France.
The defeat in Lyon marks the end of the Irish party which has seen the boys in green win over locals and other supporters from around Europe.
Ireland lost the knock-out showdown 2-1 with their only goal being a Robbie Brady penalty within two minutes of kick-off.
After the final whistle, Irish fans continued to sing and the players stood and applauded their devoted support as they belted out a passionate rendition of The Fields Of Athenry.
French fans packed out the Stade de Lyon, clearly outnumbering the Irish contingent who struggled to get their hands on tickets.
Sitting amongst the host fans in the stands, and looking out at the scene in front of him after 90 minutes, Jason Stanley, 21, from Kilkenny, said: “It’s been great for the country. It means so much to us as Irish people.”
Pauric Byrne, 36, who is from Donegal but lives in New York, said he was “disappointed but proud”, adding: “They done their country proud. They done their best. They were just unlucky.”
He said the Irish fans were the best supporters of the whole tournament.
“Everybody loves them wherever they go,” he said.
Reflecting on his Euro 2016 adventure, he said: “It was worth every bit of it.”
Arie Reilly, 46, who is from Mexico and calls herself an Irish “groupie”, said: “They didn’t deserve to leave. The fans will be missed.
“First of all they’re manly men and very well behaved. Irish men are distinguished because they have a lot of camaraderie and they’re very inclusive.
“They were celebrating defeat just as much as victory. Mexicans are like that too except they’re not as handsome.
“Ireland is where men are men and women are happy.”
Ms Reilly has followed Ireland to four World Cups so far.
Asked how he felt, Conor McNamara, 40, from Cork, said: “Gutted. Absolutely gutted. Had it in the bag. Just gutted. It was a good innings. We had a ball.”
Dave Lynch, 43, from Dublin, said he was “deflated but proud”, adding: “Proud of the spirit. We gave it all. 10 bad minutes and that was it.
“On the day I hoped we would do it like we did against Italy. Next championship. Semis next time.”
Paraic Rogan, 29, from Dundalk, said the atmosphere was great – both at the match and in the build-up.
“We flew in yesterday. We went to Kelly’s pub and the scenes on the street were just phenomenal. No trouble at all. So much fun,” he said.
Mr Rogan also hinted at what could have been if Ireland had won.
“England in the quarters would have been a mouthwatering prospect,” he said.
Jimmy Cunningham, 32, from Sligo, said: “Disappointed. We were looking good at half time. They’re a much better team, France.”
Looking back on the tournament and the reputation of the Irish supporters, he said: “I live in Austria and even the people there has seen all the good reports about the Irish fans.”
Dave Draper, 29, from County Roscommon, said Irish fans “proved themselves to be the best in the world”, adding: “We won the hearts of the French nation.”
Before the match, the Irish and French fans were keen to have their photographs taken together.
One Irishman was pictured kissing a Frenchman on the cheek.
French president Francois Hollande posed for pictures with Irish supporters which were posted on the Elysee Twitter account.
In an open letter to Irish fans, a Paris author told them: “France has fallen under your spell”.
Olivier Sauton said the Irish supporters are gentlemen and reflecting on the impact they have had on him and his country since the tournament began, he wrote: “Because even if my blood is French, my heart is, thanks to you and your comrades, becoming Irish.”