Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland fans' reaction: We're still daring to dream

By Ian Cahoon

Jubilant Northern Ireland fans were queuing up to sing the praises of Michael O'Neill and their heroes last night.

Almost 16,000 members of the Green and White Army were at the Stade de Lyon to see history created as O'Neill's men won their first-ever European Championship match.

The disappointment of defeat to Poland in the Group C opener seemed like a distant memory for the sea of green pouring out into streets in the rain.

James Montgomery summed up the mood of those heading back into the city to celebrate.

He said: "This makes it all worthwhile.

"Months of planning, the money we spent to get here and the money we've spent since getting here, just to see something like that and be part of it. Incredible.

"We were full value for the win as well, there's no doubt about it. The reaction of people afterwards told you everything, there were people in tears.

"We've waited for so long for this, so let's make the most of it."

Ahead of the match there were more than a few eyebrows raised in the stands when news of O'Neill's bold team selection began to filter through.

The manager made five changes from his opening line-up and some fans were concerned before kick-off.

"When you don't see Kyle Lafferty in the starting line-up then you begin to panic," said Andy Rodgers from Belfast.

"He's been the main man for a while now but Conor Washington was superb up front and did the work of three strikers.

"Every other change Michael made could be justified as well. Aaron Hughes was as solid as a rock.

"He's proven himself time after time to be an astute manager and he got it spot-on once again."

Stephen Kennedy was glad to be there to celebrate a bit of history with his family.

"This was my first match of the tournament," he said.

"I'm with my brother and my Dad who was in Spain in '82. It was amazing to stand with him 34 years later at another historic Northern Ireland win.

"To qualify was enough in itself, but then to score and win was incredible. The win also puts us in a great position to go further regardless of our result against Germany."

The victory now means Northern Ireland are in a great position to make the second round.

Some fans have already turned their attention to making a quick trip back to France.

"The second goal going in could be huge for us when the best third-placed teams are being decided," said Johnny Gray.

"Barring a hammering against Germany I'd say we can take one of those spots. I know some guys who haven't booked a flight home yet, but I think most will go home and come back if we make it."

But the euphoria of the victory was tempered last night as news came through of a Northern Ireland fan who died during the match.

Belfast Telegraph