Republic's team slip away after touchdown

Wed, Jun 20, 2012, 01:00

THE IRISH team returned home in a fashion as unmemorable as their exit from the European Championships.

In contrast to 1988 when Dublin Airport balconies resembled Lansdowne Road’s old terraces and the team paraded on an open-top bus, these players slipped in and out without any attention from fans or media.

The players arrived on a charter flight from Poznan just after 5pm yesterday and were immediately given a ramp transfer, which enabled them to bypass the arrivals hall. They were then taken in a Bus Éireann coach to the Clarion Hotel near the airport.

Some 30,000 or so fans followed the team in Poland, but just a handful of supporters were in the arrivals hall in a forlorn bid to welcome home the players.

Teenage sisters Aisling (18) and Niamh Relihan (14) along with their uncle John Murphy, all from Macroom, Co Cork, travelled with the intention of welcoming back the vanquished boys in green.

They were left disappointed.

Niamh and Aisling had banners for two of the players, which read: “We Love you James McClean” and “We Love You Keith Andrews”.

Niamh said they phoned the airport on Monday to confirm the team’s return and were told they were coming, but no details were forthcoming.

They arrived at the airport at 9.30am and did not leave until after 6pm, having been informed that the team had come and gone.

“We’re gutted . . . We thought we’d at least get them coming through arrivals so we could see them . . . I don’t understand the secrecy,” said Niamh.

Despite the team’s abject failure, the sisters are standing by their men. “We’re proud of them getting there,” said Niamh.

Television viewing figures for the Republic’s matches on RTÉ fell 25 per cent between the Croatian game and third match against Italy.

While travelling Irish fans sang in the face of defeat, hundreds of thousands of armchair supporters simply switched off following the 4-0 loss to Spain.

An average of 920,000 watched RTÉ’s 3½ hour coverage of the 2-0 defeat to Italy, including pre- and post-match analysis and Après Match, according to Tam Ireland ratings.

Despite the decline in average audiences, the tournament has been a hit for RTÉ. The three matches had total audience reach of more than two million viewers – this is the cumulative number of viewers who tuned in to its coverage for at least one minute.