NI football fans make plans for France next year
ALL roads now lead to France for Northern Ireland fans as frantic searches take place to secure passage to the European Championship finals.
Within hours of the team securing its first ever appearance in the tournament, supporters were already booking ferries, trains and accommodation for the big party next summer.
The men in green stormed to a 3-1 win over Greece at Windsor Park on Thursday night to secure an automatic qualification berth.
The Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, also pulled off a remarkable 1-0 victory over world champions Germany in Dublin to guarantee at least a play-off spot.
Celebrations erupted following Northern Ireland's triumph, including a massive street party in Belfast city centre.
Many fans, still bleary-eyed from the late night partying, managed to make it to Belfast City Airport yesterday morning to bid the team farewell as they travelled to Finland for their last group game.
Chants of "Green Army" rang out as supporters wearing Northern Ireland tops and waving French tricolours reflected on the game with glee.
With flights and hotels expected to be at a premium for the show-piece finals, many were already making plans on how best to get to France next year.
Ferry prices were yesterday starting from around £300 return, although one fan said she had got a flight to Paris for almost £50.
But with the draw for game locations not made until next month, prices are expected to surge.
Gary McAllister of the Northern Ireland football supporters club said many fans were already on the ball with their plans.
"People are looking to be as central as they can and base themselves in the best place, obviously Paris is very central, but it will all depend on what group that Northern Ireland are drawn in.
"The fear is that you end up travelling 1,000 miles between stadiums or perhaps you could be lucky and just have to go 250 miles.
"They're already looking at the Rosslare ferry or others will go through England and some have even suggested Belgium. But it will really all depend on where they are playing."
Mr McAllister said people will go to any lengths to ensure they are in France.
"I know people who are planning to camp or stay in caravans, while others are pitching in together to buy a caravan and travel that way," he said.
Sports stars and politicians have applauded both Ireland teams on their victories.
Golfer Rory McIlroy, who was in the stands at Windsor Park, hailed it as a "great night for football".
He tweeted: "Anyone for France next year?", before adding: "Unbelievable result for the Republic too! Great night for the island of Ireland, north and south. Hopefully see both teams in France next yr."
British Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter to convey congratulations and DUP leader Peter Robinson said: "Tremendous result and achievement. Huge congratulations to Michael O'Neill and team. Great night for Northern Ireland."
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Incredible night for Irish football, congrats Martin and Michael O'Neill (managers) & both teams. Beating the world champions in Dublin so amazing."