Belfast Telegraph

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Northern Ireland team gave fans chance to dream and they return as heroes

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 27/06/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster with Northern Ireland players after the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
First Minister Arlene Foster with Northern Ireland players after the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
First Minister Arlene Foster with Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward after the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with his daughters after the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland players are dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland players are dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Michael McGovern are dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Corry Evans is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Steven Davis and Oliver Norwood are dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Steven Davis is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland'sJosh Magennis is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty is dejected at the final whistle after being defeated by Wales 1-0 in Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas applauds the fans after the final whistle during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Ben Davies of Wales celebrates his team's win while Northern Ireland players show their dejection after the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty throws his boots to the fans after the final whistle during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Josh Magennis (2nd L) and Northern Ireland players show their dejection after their team's 0-1 defeat in the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis after Wales' Gareth Bale scores against them during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Gareth Bale (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) of Wales celebrate their team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates on the final whistle during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas with Wales' Ashley Williams during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Wales' Gareth Bale (left) celebrates with teammate Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor (right) after seeing his side score their first goal of the game conceded by Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley (not pictured) during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty with Wales' Ben Davies during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with Wales' Ben Davies during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood with Wales' Aaron Ramsey during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty with Wales' James Chester during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with Wales' Neil Taylor during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart with Wales' Aaron Hughes during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with Wales' Neil Taylor during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with Wales' Ben Davies during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward with Wales' Chris Gunter during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty with Wales' Chris Gunter during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Wales' Gareth Bale battles for the ball with Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward (left) and Corry Evans (right) during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Joe Giddens/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis with Wales' Ben Davies during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty with Wales' Ben Davies during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward with Wales' Chris Gunter during Saturday evenings last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament at the Parc des Princes, Paris. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Wales' Ashley Williams (left) and Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty battle for the ball in the air during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Wales' Gareth Bale (centre) battles for the ball against Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes (right) and Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales' Gareth Bale (centre) battles for the ball against Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes (right) and Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (left) and Wales' Joe Allen battle for the ball during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Gareth Bale of Wales and Oliver Norwood of Northern Ireland compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Stuart Dallas of Northern Ireland reacts after missing a chance during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis (left) and Wales' Aaron Ramsey (centre) battle for the ball during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales' Sam Vokes (centre) battles for the ball against Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley (top) and Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales' Joe Allen (left) and Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty battle for the ball during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris.Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales player hold a group huddle during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Wales' Joe Allen jump for the ballduring the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland players warm up before the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales' Gareth Bale during the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. : Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Wales' Gareth Bale (top centre) warms up before the round of 16 match at the Parc de Princes, Paris. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland players during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland players during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland players during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill speaks to his players during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Conor Washington lifts Oliver Norwood as Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty watches on during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Michael McGovern during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Shane Ferguson and Steven Davis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley, Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley, Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Corry Evans and Jonny Evans during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Steven Davis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Josh Magennis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Shane Ferguson and Steven Davis during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 24th June 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Northern Ireland's Michael McGovern during Friday nights training session at the Parc des Princes ahead of their game against Wales in the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament.
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis chases the ball during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Corry Evans chases the ball during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley and Josh Magennis chases the ball during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas chases the ball during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley , Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward take a tumble during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 24/6/2016 Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill speaks to Will Grigg and Kyle Lafferty during training at Parc Des Princes in Paris ahead of their Euro 2016, final16 game against Wales on Saturday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

They arrived in France daring to dream, and for two wonderful weeks they lived that dream.

Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 odyssey may be over, but for the thousands of fans it has left memories which will last a lifetime.

And when the disappointment passes, as it soon will, the tournament will be remembered not for the moment in Paris on Saturday when the journey ended.

Instead, it will be the day that fans partied on the beach in Nice.

It will be the afternoon when we were Kings of Lyon, claiming our first win at a major finals for 34 years.

It will be the night in Paris when 10,000 in green and white sang and danced in the stands after losing to Germany.

And it will be the heroes' welcome which awaits Michael O'Neill and his players when they return to Belfast today.

It has been a truly wonderful fortnight.

The squad, and the army of fans that provided a noisy and colourful backdrop in cities across France, will leave with no regrets.

Disappointment? Perhaps.

Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye) Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast, UK - February 25 2016. Fans gather at the Northern Ireland fanzone as they take on Wales in the Euro 2016 final 16 game. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press
Northern Ireland fans take over the Boucher playing fields to support the green and white in their Euro 2016 game against Wales. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker Press

They could, maybe should, have reached the quarter-finals, falling just short after another epic effort against Wales.

But our footballers and fans have given so much to Euro 2016.

The build-up to the tournament had been overshadowed by the fear of terror which continues to disrupt daily life here.

Its opening days brought appalling scenes of hooligans rioting on the streets of Marseilles.

There was also the chaos of the transport strike which paralysed the country's rail and plane network.

But Northern Ireland, and particularly our supporters, have been an antidote to all of the problems.

The tournament will be so much poorer without us.

Even after the final whistle blew on their Euro dreams on Saturday evening, the GAWA continued to party in the stands.

And when they finally left the Parc des Princes, there was a sense of pride at what we have brought to the competition.

Jonathan Maguire from Belfast said: "I'm so proud. You saw the scenes tonight, which were just incredible.

"It has been an amazing journey. I've had the best two weeks of my life."

Gary Pearce said: "I don't think I've ever been so proud to say I'm from Northern Ireland.

"I'm disappointed today, obviously, but tomorrow I know I'll look back with pride on what we have done out here."

Paul Gregg, who travelled from Magherafelt, said: "The lads did their absolute best, they ran their hearts out. It's gutting to go out - it had to come to an end at some point, but it is still so hard to be going home."

First Minister Arlene Foster had travelled to Paris for the game.

She joined the players on the pitch afterwards, and said it had been an "unforgettable journey".

"They united the country and made us all incredibly proud," she added.

Golf star Rory McIlroy tweeted: "You did us all proud Northern Ireland. It's only the beginning, let's get to the World Cup in 2018 #GAWA."

And boxer Carl Frampton posted: "Always proud of our boys. #GAWA till I die."

Having not played at a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, being in France was an achievement in itself for Northern Ireland.

They had been written off before a ball was even kicked, but defied the odds to stay beyond the group stages.

The fans played their part too. They have been wonderful ambassadors for our country.

In Nice they partied with Polish supporters, swapping shirts and scarves.

And in Lyon they clubbed together to pay for a window at a restaurant after it was accidentally broken during a game of football.

The past two weeks have also done more for cross-border relations than almost anything else in recent times.

After the tragic death of Darren Rodgers in Nice, Irish supporters sang his name and applauded during their game against Sweden.

And on Saturday, a Republic fan was photographed singing and dancing among the GAWA at the Parc des Princes.

Even amid the pain of defeat our fans showed their class, shaking hands with their Welsh counterparts and wishing them luck for their next game.

Theirs too is an incredible story, borne out of tragedy following the death of Gary Speed in 2011.

After waiting more than half a century for an appearance at a major tournament, Wales are now through to the last eight.

Good luck to them.

But for Northern Ireland the journey is over.

In time, Michael O'Neill's class of 2016 will be remembered in the same way as the great teams of 1958, '82 and '86.

Three weeks ago they arrived in France as a group of players daring to dream.

Today they return as national heroes.

Belfast Telegraph

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