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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 1°C
# Euro 2016
Letter from Bordeaux: Irish fans drink Connemara dry and Wilmots is the gaffer
The second city to host the Boys in Green has been coming to terms with their arrival over the past few days.

Euro 2016 soccer tournament PA Wire / Press Association Images Ireland fans at a wet fan zone in Bordeaux. PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

- Ben Blake reports from Bordeaux

AFTER A WEEK spent serenading just about everyone who crossed their paths, from the random man on the balcony in Clichy to that unsuspecting nun on the train, it was time for the Irish fans to depart Paris en masse.

Those watching on from home may, at this stage, have grown tired of the countless viral videos and what appears to be back-slapping from the Irish media, but there is little doubt that the Boys in Green have have brought a feel-good factor to both France’s capital city and the early stages of Euro 2016 with their infectious chants.

A 640-kilometre journey south-west to Bordeaux was next on the cards, with many of the thousands who are travelling by campervan or bus stopping off at the coastal city of La Rochelle along the way. 

There, the party atmosphere continued and former Boyzone man Keith Duffy was even roped into a sing-song the other night — appropriate when you consider 90s pop is more often than not the genre of choice for the current crop of Irish supporters. 

Upon arrival in the latest city hosting Martin O’Neill’s men, we noted The Connemara Pub on Cours Albret and predicted it might serve as a meeting point (as Irish pubs so often are) for those coming into town.

12 hours on, and there wasn’t an inch of space on the street outside as a swarm of green had gathered once again.

Although the establishment had stocked up well in preparation, the word going around was that they were forced to close their doors for two hours on Thursday night as the extraordinary number of punters, inside and out, had drank them dry.

It later transpired that the real story behind the establishment temporarily refusing to serve was because the coolers had overheated due to the sheer number of pints being pulled throughout the day.  

Euro 2016 soccer tournament Catherine Wylie Supporters flock to the Connemara Pub. Catherine Wylie

Having basked in glorious sunshine last week, the weather has taken a dramatic turn for the worse and we’ve had intermittent monsoons over the past 24 hours.

That could have an impact on the pitch when Ireland play Belgium this afternoon as ground staff at the Noveau Stade de Bordeaux were working hard to ensure the rain-soaked surface was up to scratch before both teams trained on Friday evening.

Located 8kms north of the city centre on the outskirts of town, the new home of Ligue 1 club FC Girondins de Bordeaux stands surrounded by open space (although the Stade Velodrome is also nearby) and does not look like your regular football stadium.

Built by the same Swiss architectural firm behind Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena and the Birds Nest in Beijing, the geometretic structure is held up by 900 narrow, white columns and would not look out of place in an Ikea catalogue.

The 42,000-seater opened its door 12 months ago, making it one of the newest of the 10 grounds hosting matches at this competition.

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Wales v Slovakia - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group B - Stade de Bordeaux Martin Rickett Outside the Stade de Bordeaux. Martin Rickett

Just half the size of the Stade de France, where Ireland played out a 1-1 draw with Sweden on Monday, the number of people still hunting for tickets at this late stage is significently higher this time around but fans have travelled in great numbers once again.

On the field, Ireland will play the role of underdog against a Belgium side that has a wealth of individual talent, but the question remains whether the nation ranked second in the Fifa world rankings are actually weaker than the sum of their parts.

Concerns over the unity in the group were raised again at Friday’s pre-match press conference when manager Marc Wilmots was quizzed about unrest among his players in the aftermath of their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Italy.

Wilmots, who is reportedly nicknamed ‘Moi, Je’ (meaning ‘Me, I’) by his squad due to his tendancy to talk about his own playing days, attempted to stamp his authrority on the briefing by insisting: “I’m the man in charge — I make the decisions”.

They might be two very different situations, but the line brought back memories of Steve Staunton’s infamous claim in 2006 that he was the gaffer and the buck stopped with him.

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

We pick the Ireland line-up that needs to start against Belgium tomorrow

Belgium boss Wilmots forced to dismiss talk of leaks and in-fighting on the eve of Ireland clash

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