Fans take starring role as Ireland bows out
Ireland's football fans certainly didn't disappoint, even if Ireland's football team fell far short of expectations at the European Championship.
The Irish lost their third straight match in Group C on Monday, falling to Italy 2-0. But the thousands of green-clad fans provided deafening support once again throughout the match at the Municipal Stadium.
''I have never been so emotional during a national anthem,'' Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. ''They are a fantastic set of supporters.''
However dire the team's performances have been, the fans' excellent behavior will be remembered. They broke into a deafening rendition of the traditional folk ballad ''The Fields of Athenry'' late in the match against Italy and long after the final whistle.
The same earsplitting chorus had been blasted out when Ireland was beaten by Spain 4-0 in Gdansk four days earlier.
''In the last three games, the fans have been fantastic,'' Ireland captain Robbie Keane said. ''It is a shame the team didn't perform as well as we can, because if anyone deserves success it is them.''
Against Italy, it seemed the supporters were determined to make even more noise than normal despite having nothing to play for but pride. Every decision in Ireland's favor was cheered like a goal, playful boos rang out when Italy had the ball and Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni's name was chanted on several occasions.
''I've never seen anything like it in my life,'' Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi said. ''It was really emotional.''
Antonio Cassano's opening goal quieted the Irish briefly and gave the Italian supporters the chance to try a few chants of their own. That lasted about five minutes before normal service was resumed and a chorus of ''Come on you boys in green'' rang out from the Irish contingent.
Prandelli was so moved he began his news conference with a round of applause for the Irish fans.
Always chasing the game against Spain and Croatia, Ireland finally mustered a few moments of danger against Italy. Midfielder Keith Andrews, who was later sent off after receiving a second yellow card, forced Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon into a couple of good saves from long range in the second half.
Defender Richard Dunne also threatened from set pieces and Italy looked nervous in the closing stages until Mario Balotelli's goal.
''We will learn from the tournament and learn from the experience,'' Ireland fullback Stephen Ward said. ''We've got to say we came up against three better sides and I think their quality has shone through.
''Every game's felt like a home game. The fans have been unbelievable, no matter what's gone on on the pitch. They are a credit to the country.''