Belfast Telegraph

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Euro 2016: Jubilation as fanzone turns into sea of green and white

By Cate McCurry

The euphoric Euro dream has been kept well and truly alive with thousands of supporters erupting in ecstasy at Belfast's fanzone as the team secured their first win of the tournament.

The result every fan had been longing for was secured in the last 60 seconds with a second goal sealing a 2-0 win over Ukraine in Lyon.

The Titanic Quarter reverberated with cheers and celebrations from the Green And White Army as the final whistle blew.

Boisterous supporters sang, danced and cheered while waving Northern Ireland flags - the memories of Sunday's defeat to Poland long forgotten.

Despite the game starting off without Kyle Lafferty, spirits remained high and a carnival atmosphere filtered through the crowds.

Northern Ireland players wore black armbands in honour of fan Darren Rodgers who fell to his death in Nice just hours after they lost their opening game of the tournament.

His Braid United football shirt was also displayed at the side of the pitch.

Supporters at the fanzone joined those at the stadium in a round of applause on 24 minutes - marking each year of his life in a fitting tribute.

Early in the second half the clouds broke over Belfast and the rain held off for those watching the 72 square metre, 663,552-pixel big screen, weighing a mere 4.2 tonnes.

Fans were soon rewarded for their patience when Gareth McAuley came up with a stunning header securing Northern Ireland's first goal of the Euros.

The elated supporters had finally got the moment they had been waiting for.

However, frustration fell over the Titanic Quarter as the game was delayed because of adverse weather conditions as hailstones the size of marbles rained down on the pitch.

After play had resumed the Green And White Army had to remain defiant as six minutes extra time was added. And, as fans got ready to celebrate the win, Donaghmore native Niall McGinn scored the second goal in the dying seconds.

It was a sight to behold as fans belted out Sweet Caroline followed by We're not Brazil, We're Northern Ireland and the fan's favourite chant - Will Grigg's On Fire, a parody of '90s pop song Freed From Desire.

"It was pretty sweet, delighted with the result," said Kevin Patterson from Belfast.

"O'Neill made all the changes but Sunday's game had to be defensive and they weren't expecting to score but they did really well this time.

"They have the chance and they can make it happen."

Newtownabbey man Dylan Taylor was at the fanzone with his daughters Rebecca and Lauren, wife Nicola and family members Wallace Larry and Lauren Graham. He said: "It was fantastic, such a brilliant game.

"We thought at best it would be one up but we got an even better result.

"Their defence was very good at the start, getting the early goal, putting them on the backfoot and setting a good pace. The defence made it all possible. My star player was Corry Evans."

Tommy Russell from Ballyclare said: "It was amazing, it's so good to see after their first match, it was great.

"I'm a happy supporter now. Hopefully they can repeat it on Tuesday and that's us all sorted for the next round. There's a great spirit among everyone and I hope they do well."

Courtney Watson, (20) from Belfast, said: "I love the whole atmosphere of the fanzone and everyone is in good form and together. Everyone is here to have a really good time, I love it.

"I didn't start supporting Northern Ireland until they qualified but what a good time to start."

Nancy McCullough from Newtownabbey said: "I came here for the atmosphere.

"My husband is in France with my son so we're here to make up for our loss. I couldn't go because of work but I'll enjoy it from home. The whole place is in great form and here for a party."

Belfast Telegraph