Children from the County Donegal village of Creeslough, where ten people were killed in an explosion, have led the Republic of Ireland senior men’s football team out at the Aviva Stadium.
Footballers from two youth teams in the area walked out as mascots for the match against Norway on Thursday.
The Football Association of Ireland described it as a “memorable day”.
Marie Duffy’s niece Clara Ward-Duffy was one the lucky few who got to meet some of her Irish footballing heroes.
Ms Duffy said the nine-year-old, who plays as a striker for Dunfanaghy Youths FC, is “football mad” and walking out with the national side in front of a packed Aviva Stadium is very special.
Speaking to BBC News NI earlier on Thursday, Ms Duffy said she was thrilled that Clara and the other children “get to experience some joy after what has been an incredibly difficult time for the village”.
“It’s obviously been an incredibly tough for everyone here in Creeslough and we’re just so pleased these children will get to experience a little joy after everything that’s happened,” she said.
The proud aunt said Clara was looking forward to meeting strikers in both teams as that is the position she plays in herself.
She also said she was particularly excited to see Norway’s Martin Ødegaard because he plays for Arsenal and that is her team.
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The mascots for the international friendly in Dublin were all players from Dunfanaghy Youths FC and Glenree United FC, two local clubs in the Creeslough area.
Clara Ward-Duffy was joined on the pitch by teammates Aisling Toner, Anthony Dawson, Riley Sweeney, Caoimhe Langan and Cian McCaul.
Glenree United FC were represented by Erin Caldwell, Ellie Wilkin, Kyle Doherty, Cody Boyce and Seamus McCloskey.
Here are the lucky players from Dunfanaghy Youths have been picked as mascots for the Ireland Norway match. Its a once…
Posted by Dunfanaghy Youths FC on Saturday, November 12, 2022
As well as walking out onto the pitch, the mascots got to experience a special meet-and-greet with some of the footballers prior to kick-off.
Everton defender Séamus Coleman, who is from Killybegs in County Donegal, was one of the players to speak with the mascots and their families before kick-off and also posed for photos.
“Where are we all from? Donegal? So am I!”
A lovely moment as tonight’s mascots, from Creeslough, Donegal chat with Seamus Coleman 💚#COYBIG | #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/D5dLq0dLUJ
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) November 17, 2022
‘Meet their heroes in green’
Manager of the Dunfanaghy Youths U-10 side Liam Langan described it as a very special occasion for both sets of teams from County Donegal.
He described the young players getting to “meet their heroes in green” as a “fantastic opportunity for them”.
A spokesperson for the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said they were delighted to welcome the Creeslough young footballers.
They hoped the youth team players would have a memorable day after what was “an incredibly difficult time for the local area”.
Norway, who were without Manchester City striker Erling Haaland, took the lead in the first half when Leo Ostigard brilliantly headed past Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.
The Republic thought they had salvaged a draw through Alan Browne’s fine strike from distance but Omoijuanfo struck five minutes from time to give Norway the win.
You can read the full match report of the Republic of Ireland’s 2-1 defeat to Norway over on the BBC Sport NI website.
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