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Euro 2016: Ireland has all to play for as fans dream of final 16 qualification

By Catherine Wylie, Press Association

Published 22/06/2016

Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland need a victory over Italy to give them a realistic chance of progressing
Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland need a victory over Italy to give them a realistic chance of progressing

Irish football fans have been "living the dream" in France - but it could all come to an end if the Republic do not beat Italy tonight.

Thousands of supporters have been arriving in Lille for the crunch clash which Ireland must win if they are to stay in Euro 2016.

But Irish fans - who have been a talking point during the tournament due to their sense of humour and good behaviour - say the main thing is that everyone has a great time and stays safe.

Padraig McCormack, 24, from Sligo, acquired a level of fame on Tuesday afternoon when he kicked a ball in through a second floor open window while wearing a horse mask.

He said the atmosphere has been "unbelievable", and looking ahead to the game, he joked: "Ireland win. 3-2. And John O'Shea to score all five.

"I made the trip over from Sligo with the hope that Ireland will beat Italy and move on to the qualifiers.

"It wouldn't hit me that hard (if Ireland lost) because I've had a great time in France."

A video showing Mr McCormack's window goal has prompted people to suggest that he should start for Ireland against the Italians.

"We brought the horse to France and kicked a ball through an open window and we're living the dream here with all the lads," he said.

Reflecting on the moment he scored, making dozens of Irish fans surround him in celebration, he said: "That was one of the best moments of my life."

His cousin Conor McCormack, 23, joked at the time: "Someone ring Martin O'Neill and give that man a call-up."

Looking ahead to the match, Conor said: "If they lose I'll be disappointed, but I'll be happy that I came over to enjoy the experience."

Harry Clancy, 24, from Sligo, said: "I was over four years ago in Poland. It's exactly the same feeling about it.

"If they go through we'll be delaying the flight home. We'll have to phone the wife.

"I came out for the craic. I don't mind if they don't get a win. As long as everyone has a great time and is safe. We're proud of the lads."

Des McTiernan, 28, also from Sligo, said he is hoping for a 1-0 win for the Republic.

"Since I've been about 17 or 18 all I've wanted to do is come to a major tournament.

"I missed out on Poland. I was raging. I was just out of university and didn't have the money to go.

"I've been four years out in Australia. My visa is coming to an end.

"If Ireland make the second round I'll be staying because the experience has been that good. I've made so many friends.

"The French people have been so friendly. It's been the best experience of my life.

"It's one to tell the grandchildren," he added.

Irish President Michael D Higgins will be at the match tonight in Lille, his spokesman said.

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