A local Northern Ireland fan is hoping the local game can harness the feelgood factor created by Michael O’Neill’s squad at the European Championships.
Stephen Barr has followed his country all over the world, and basked in the glory of the performances as they reached the last 16 of the compatition.
But he now hopes their success is used as a building block for both the national team and the Irish League as a whole.
“I want to see the redeveloped Windsor Park packed to the rafters for Northern Ireland games in the new World Cup campaign, starting with the home game against San Marino in October,” he told Times Sport after returning from France.
“I want to see the feel good factor around local football continue and the whole of Northern Ireland unite behind their team. I want to see us compete and challenge for qualifying places in future tournaments.
“And, I would like to see a boost for the Irish League and local clubs. We have a good product which provides great entertainment and more people should give it a try.”
Stephen told Times Sport ‘it meant everything’ to see the Green and White Army hold their own at a major tournament.
“I was there when we trooped out of the Josy Barthel Stadium in Luxembourg after a 3-2 defeat in October 2013, the lowest point in what is now 38 years of supporting Northern Ireland,” he recalled.
“That night most of the old hands accepted that maybe we were now reduced to travelling as tourists for future games. How great it was to be proved wrong!
“I first saw Northern Ireland play at Windsor Park in a 2-1 win v Denmark in 1978. I saw the British Championship win in 1980 and also the 1982 and 1986 World Cups on tv.
“At that time nobody thought it would be 30 years til we qualified for a major Finals again, so there was no way I was missing this.
“I’m so proud of the all of the players, especially Michael O’Neill and Gareth McAuley, both of whom I saw play for Coleraine.
“As we lined out in Nice I couldn’t help but think we were all a long way from the Showgrounds now.
“The win against Ukraine is an obvious highlight, but there are many more.
“The visit to the Somme was another – we hired bikes from the tourist office in Albert and cycled up to the Thiepval Memorial and the Ulster Tower where we remembered those who had lost their lives almost 100 years ago to the day.
“Standing in the fanzone in Nice after the Poland game with people who I have been friends with since Primary School in Portstewart, and Coleraine Inst.
“Prior to the Germany game, walking up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe then on to the Trocadero and looking out across the Eiffel Tower. Surely the greatest setting in Europe for a pre match stroll!
“Seeing a game in wonderful and world famous stadiums Marseille - Iceland v Hungary, and also in the Stade de France – Iceland v Austria/Italy v Spain was also very special.”
The Irish fans have received the Medal of the City of Paris for the sportsmanship they displayed during the tournament.
What was the reaction from the other fans to them?
“The reaction we received from the other fans was genuinely superb,” said Stephen.
“My ticket v Poland was for a mainly Polish part of the ground and both on the approach to the ground and inside, they were really friendly, posing for photos with us
“Up in Paris it was clear that the word had spread because anytime we met fans of Austria, Iceland or Germany in particular, they would ask us to sing the “Will Griggs on fire” song. And the French locals were loving the banter as well.
“At the Italy v Spain game we were taking photos inside the Stade de France with our green Euro 2016 Northern Ireland flag, and a little French girl of about five or six came up and shouted “Green and white army!” I knew the that the fans had made an impact.”
The whole tournament was gripped by Will Grigg Fever, is Stephen still hearing the song in his sleep?
“Im just about over it now,” he joked. “It really took off in Lyon and was still going strong in Paris. I just wish he could have got a run out against Wales as the place would have gone crazy.”