They came in their droves – hoping, praying and daring to dream once again.
It was the biggest game in a generation for Northern Ireland and the crowd at the fan zone in Belfast last night was the largest yet, with more than 13,000 people packed onto the slipways where the Titanic had been built.
Buoyed by the victory against Ukraine, the supporters belted out tunes that paid homage to their favourites in France.
There were also hearty renditions of “We’re the Ulster boys making all the noise” and “We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland”.
One fan, Jamie Hanna, even carried a drum the 50 miles from Kilkeel.
Ahead of the game there was a party atmosphere in the fan zone which lies in the shadow the £90 million Titanic Belfast centre.
But as the minutes ticked away, for many it became a nerve-racking watch and the sea of expectant faces focused on the big screen gradually etched with agony.
Some fans could be seen biting nails, pulling their hair and hiding behind their hands as the final whistle approached.
Grandmother Susan McAllister, 51, from east Belfast plans to travel to France for the second round.
She said: “All our men are already out there and now the rest of us are going too. We have been to the fan zone for every game. This was a great atmosphere.”
In the 64th minute the fans paused to remember with applause and cheers tragic Robert “Archie” Rainey, 64, who died after suffering a heart attack in Lyon last week.
Andrew Thompson, 28, from Randalstown, said the Northern Ireland squad should be proud.
“I did believe we could win but I was still impressed with the performance. I’ll support them all the way.”
Teenager Ryan Ferguson from south Belfast said: “This is my first time at the fan zone. It is unreal.”
William McLaughlin, 34, from Coleraine travelled by train.
He said: “There was a great buzz on the train, loads of people were coming up to watch the match. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen my team in a major tournament. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Helena Mateer, 44, from Newtownards, who attended with three friends and donned a green wig for the occasion, said she was glad to have been in Belfast.
She said: “It’s pouring down in Paris. We have warm sunshine here. It’s just great.”