Fans hail Republic of Ireland Euro 2016 soccer heroes on return home to Dublin
HUNDREDS of Republic fans have hailed the side heroes in an emotional homecoming at Dublin Airport.
Irish captain Robbie Keane said the Euro 2016 tournament had been an incredible journey and it was only the beginning for younger players in the squad.
"I'm a very, very proud Irishman today," he beamed, after coming off the national team's chartered flight home from Lyon.
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the bottom of the players' hearts and the journey is only beginning with these young players."
While no official homecoming has yet been organised, supporters dressed in green jerseys and waving tricolours turned up impromptu at Dublin Airport on Monday after word leaked out of the side's imminent return.
Despite making it to the last 16, Ireland crashed out after losing 2-1 to tournament hosts France on Sunday.
The defeat brought to an end weeks of celebrations which gained Irish fans themselves a whole new legion of supporters in Europe for their high spirits and sense of fun throughout.
And the team's spirited performances – notably against Italy who they beat to get through to the play-offs – inspired hope in their followers of better things to come in the months and years ahead.
"The players gave their heart and soul to this competition," said Keane.
"I couldn't have asked for better players. These players are desperate to do well by their country. They've done that."