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A Sea of Green

The sun began to set nicely on Bordeaux City Centre.

The orange hue of the nights sky reflecting nicely on the sea of green that spread throughout the congregations of Irish stood in front of me. A sea of green, thousands of men and women all together having the craic and a buzz over a football tournament set throughout France with the common dream of Ireland doing a Denmark 1992. The docket sat sweetly amongst the broken coins in my wallet - Ireland to win Euro 2016, 100/1, €4 win. Could you imagine? Even amongst the craic building up to such an event, it did seem farfetched to think of an elated Robbie Keane handing the Cup backward to Martin O'Neill - who had just finished embracing Roy. It was farfetched - but Jesus we all imagined it. Every single person in that craic-congregation imagined it. Otherwise what was the point?

I'm the type of person to attempt to rationalise these thoughts of glory in green but at the same time think - 'Jesus, ye never know do ye'? I mentioned Denmark 1992. I must have heard Denmark 1992 and Greece 2004 back and forth hundreds of times in the weeks leading to that event. For all your France, Italy and Germanys these couple of countries squeezed through amongst the elites for glory on the streets of their homeland. That's what we imagined. Ireland gave us a few good days out in recent times but we wanted something to dine out on for a lifetime.

We arrived in France the days prior to Ireland vs. Belgium, to an airport much resembling a Prefab, 4 hours outside Bordeaux. Hordes of Irish made their way down from Paris following the 1-1 draw with the Swedes the day before, and for these brief few days these people felt like your own - because they were. The buzz was euphoric. For the beer and the slosh going round on these days I'm yet to see any real aggravation - everyones on that same patriotic love buzz. Though noting no genuine badness going round, I will say for all the boys going around cleaning the streets and singing lullabies to French babies on the tram - theres also a lad that will meet an unfortunate man going by on a motorbike square on the shoulder going up for a high ball. He was fine. The baby also fell asleep.

I never understand these people that come across as though they nearly celebrate the country losing - in any sport for that matter. If my team wins, its podcast analysis and conversation for whoever will have it. If my team loses - forget it, never happened. Maybe I think too much into it, but theres a tribalism to it all that is so easy to get lost in. It's the stories your parents and grandparents tell you of old Ireland and then matching this pride for where you come from to whatever team of green seen representing Ireland. I have no interest in Cricket or Badminton, but if Ireland create ructions on the world stage in any sport I'm all over it. Bandwagoning - yes. Get up that yard Ireland - also yes.

There's another aspect to it that can so easily be overlooked - the collective buzz. For me its infatuating. You get it when your County goes well in the Championship, your local club leading up to a final, that feeling in the town where it's all anyone talks about. You and your mates - all of them - getting together over a pint or a kick around the weeks leading up to a major event and taking turns permuting the chances of a good run. We all have our club loyalties and don't get me wrong thats good craic too, but sitting alongside your Arsenal-loving mate at an Ireland match and supporting the same team is great, no matter how wrong and nauseous the idea of supporting Arsenal may make you feel.

Fast forward to the morning of the big game. That playlist you made on Spotify creatively called 'Ireland' had met its inspiration. In this case, this particular inspiration refers to Ireland and Belgium, Stade de Bordeaux. We got a point off the Swedes the days prior and although Belgium would represent probably the strongest opposition in the group of course we fancied our chances. The build up that morning provided a beautiful mixture of anxiety, nerves and a hangover that would kickstart a car. The glorious French sun shone down and we all seemed optimistic. We barely spoke on the journey from the tram to the designated fan area. None of us also had tickets as they were gold dust at the time but it was all good - Shane Long was about to set us up on our way to the last 16 before we even got near the Italians. Jonny Walters was going to come on and finish them off. Belgium won 3-0. We got sunburnt necks from that glorious French sun. Who cares? We'll beat the Italians - and thats exactly what we did.

That image in Bordeaux is one that will never leave me. That sea of green that lay in front of me of people singing and dancing together, forgetting what existed outside of that moment - because nothing did. Thats what following Ireland home and abroad means for me. Making more of it than it is, that tribalism, that collective carrying-on of a nation once we meet the world stage. Whatever background everyone had, whatever places they came from and the different set of circumstances they had in getting to that point, everyone shared this moment. A sea of green, of hopes and dreams.

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