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Letter from Poland: Green army swells as Ireland make their grand return

In the first of his daily dispatches from Ireland’s Euro 2012 camp, Miguel Delaney soaks up the sights and sounds of yesterday’s welcome in Gydnia.

Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

IRELAND HAVE ARRIVED. In every sense.

Since landing in Poland, one of the small wonders has been the mini moments that only deepen the sense of realisation that, yes, the country has qualified for a tournament once again.

On coming in from the airport, it was the Irish flag that hung proudly from roadside poles alongside the 15 others.

Dotted around Gdansk and Sopot, then, there have been glimpses of green; frequent acknowledgements that the area will serve as the team’s base.

And, finally, there was Gdynia. By yesterday’s welcoming party in the town’s Municipal Stadium. It all felt very real. Indeed, the sheer noise was a real shock to the senses.

I walked up to the ground about an hour or so before the team were due to arrive, fully expecting to be on my own and attempting to leech free wifi.

Instead, what greeted me was a free-for-all. Literally. An excitable MC was presenting a huge funfair with all manner of Irish-linked goodies being thrown out to the huge quantities of local kids.

All had an Irish flag painted on their faces. All had t-shirts welcoming the team to Gdynia. Many were knocking back green beer. And some even braved a few barbs by sticking their head through what we think was a gap at Paul McShane’s head on a giant team photo of the Irish squad.

(©INPHO/Donall Farmer)

Of course, you would imagine that many of the locals mightn’t have had the best idea who many of the Irish players were.

But some of the sights were surprising. There were, for example, a number of t-shirts with very specific motifs. It was quite odd to see a local teenager wearing a t-shirt that was essentially an ode to Kevin Kilbane.

It was still notable, however, that, by the time the team eventually came out onto the Municipal Stadium pitch, the loudest cheer on the listing of names was saved for Giovanni Trapattoni.

The manager certainly seemed in a more serene state of mind than the previous night in Hungary, and made a point of saying how the favour had to be returned to the people of Gdynia.

They can probably do that with a win or two. Because it certainly seems that the locals will be supporting Ireland.

Of course, that will still only be secondary to their own team. You simply can’t escape the sense of ‘Championship season’ around the area in general. There are flags on every car, scarves in every back seat… Jerzy Dudek at every street corner as he seems to have taken up a fair few sponsorship deals.

From that point of view, the Gdansk tri-city area does offer a rather unique experience. On the one side, there’s the Poles’ clear excitement at hosting a first ever competition. On the other, there’s Ireland’s at qualifying for a first in 10 years.

The next two weeks are going to be very interesting.

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