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Greece match is hottest ticket in town for Northern Ireland fans

By Paul Ferguson

It had been billed as the biggest match at Windsor Part in 30 years.

In reality though, due to the fact many fans weren't even born the last time Northern Ireland played in a major finals, nor indeed half the team, including Kyle Lafferty, it was the most important match of their lives.

The prize was great. A chance to play on a monumental stage - the 2016 European Championship finals in France.

An historic occasion - a time to achieve what many dared only to dream, others thought was simply impossible. And all on the 10th anniversary of David Healy scoring that winning goal against England. Surely Northern Ireland's fate was sealed.

Windsor Park, due to the major refurbishment work ongoing, was capped at capacity of 10,000.

But if the new national stadium had been fully completed, they would have easily sold out.

As it was, ticket touts were back outside the famous south Belfast venue, eager to service and, I suppose, exploit those desperate fans who had failed to secure a ticket through conventional means.

Northern Ireland v Hungary was the hottest ticket in town.

With the Kop having been flattened, due to subsidence found after the Finland game in March, the east stand picked up the baton as the main area for vocal and dramatic support for Northern Ireland.

They bounced, cheered and ultimately jeered every decision against Michael O'Neill's men.

About 400 hearty Hungarian fans made their voices heard and were a resplendent colour of red and green. But they were drowned out by the passionate members of the Green and White Army who had arrived from all parts of the country from mid afternoon, while many ex-pats had flown in from all parts for the special occasion.

Usually a game against Hungary at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland wouldn't garner more than a few hundred words in the national press.

But this game had captured the imagination with all the national newspapers sending over correspondents while Radio Five Live presented their evening programme and live commentary from Windsor Park with sports anchor Mark Chapman broadcasting live from the stands..

An air of nervous anticipation swept round Windsor Park in the early exchanges and the butterflies in the stomach were not helped when Northern Ireland talisman Lafferty received a yellow card after only 10 minutes which rules him out of the next qualifier at home to Greece in October.

But really it was only getting everyone ready for a pulsating last 16 minutes.

Incredible drama.

Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland (14) celebrates with Shane Long (9) as he scores their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland (14) celebrates with Shane Long (9) as he scores their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan (right) and Georgia's Valeri Kazaishvili battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) and Georgia's Solomon Kverkvelia during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan and Georgia's Tornike Okriashvili (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Georgia goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili punches the ball clear from Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark (centre) and Shane Long during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan (centre) battles for the ball with Georgia's Guram Kashia (left) and Jaba Kankava during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Georgia's Solomon Kvirkvelia (left) and Republic of Ireland's Jon Walters battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Georgia's Jaba Kankava (left) and Republic of Ireland's Glenn Whelan battle for the ball during the UEFA European Championship Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 7, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Republic. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's striker Jon Walters (L) vies with Georgia's midfielder Georgi Navalovski during the Euro 2016 qualifying group D football match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on September 7, 2015. Republic of Ireland won the game 1-0. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Republic of Ireland's striker Shane Long (centre left) jumps for the ball as Georgia's goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili punches clear during the Euro 2016 qualifying group D football match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Republic of Ireland's players celebrate their first goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying group D football match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Republic of Ireland's defender Seamus Coleman (L) vies with Georgia's midfielder Georgi Navalovski (R) during the Euro 2016 qualifying group D football match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on September 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Winning goalscorer Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland celebrates with Robbie Brady after the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Aleksandr Amisulashvili of Georgia clears the ball from Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Jaba Kankava of Georgia holds off Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Martin O'Neill manager of the Republic of Ireland reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland (14) beats Giorgi Navalovski (22) and goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili of Georgia (12) to score their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Zurab Khizanishvili of Georgia challenges Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Jaba Kankava of Georgia holds off Glenn Whelan of the Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Solomon Kvirkvelia of Georgia and Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland, Jaba Kankava of Georgia and Wes Hoolahan of the Republic of Ireland battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Ucha Lobjanidze of Georgia, Wes Hoolahan of the Republic of Ireland, Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland and Jaba Kankava of Georgia battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Ucha Lobjanidze of Georgia, Wes Hoolahan of the Republic of Ireland, Jonathan Walters of the Republic of Ireland and Jaba Kankava of Georgia battle for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Jonathan Walters and John O'Shea of the Republic of Ireland line up prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Ireland players line up prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

We had everything - a goal to break hearts, a bizarre sending off and then a magical equaliser by that man Lafferty. But that doesn't tell half the story with diving, close shaves and off the ball incidents.

The Northern Ireland fans were put through the ringer, with the intensity of the match at fever pitch.

But the wait for Northern Ireland goes on - a point closer to the promised land but we still need a win from our remaining two games.

The task has just got that little bit more difficult with Lafferty, Conor McLaughlin and Chris Baird all ruled out through suspension for the game against Greece.

As Sir Alex Ferguson used to say - it's squeaky bum time.

Belfast Telegraph