Three years ago this month, word filtered back to Meenaneary in south-west Donegal from London that Paul Boyle had lost his battle with bowel cancer.
This week, Paul has joined the throngs of Irish supporters in Poland hoping that Ireland can make a recovery similar to his own.
Aged just 58, he had been based in the English capital since around about the time he left his teens and was well known closer to home as he frequently holidayed in Kilcar, the place where he owns a house he visits up to half a dozen times a year, coming home to see his friends and his son Scott McBrearty.
“I was given an hour to live,” Paul said this week. “The word got home they had turned off the machine on me in London. It was the day of the local elections at home and there were people in the pubs, probably after going to vote they were having a drink and they got the news.
“There were complications with my surgery after I was told I would be back at work in three months but I contracted septicemia then and liver failure. The lungs collapsed and the brain went for a while - that was all on the medical report. I don’t know what happened but I came out of it.
“I was intensive care, doting for six weeks before my sister Brid looked after me for eight months in Kent. She was brilliant to me, as was my best friend in London, Peter McGinley from Killybegs.”
Paul was speaking from Bydgosczcz, a rusty old Polish city that still reeks of Communism. He was stopping off on Monday to break the five-hour train journey from Poznan to Gdansk, the cities where the Republic of Ireland are undertaking their tricky Euro 2012 Group C.
“I was here in Bydgosczcz in 1991 for an U-21 game the same week the Irish seniors drew 3-3 in Poznan with Poland in a qualifier, so I thought I’d pop back to see how its been since,” he added.
Paul has been an avid follower of the Irish soccer team since 1974, when he huddled onto the terraces at Dalymount Park to see Don Givens score a hat-trick as Ireland hammered the Soviet Union 3-0 - a match in which a scraggly haired Liam Brady made his international debut.
Givens followed that up with all four goals against Turkey but Ireland still failed to make the finals in Yugoslavia in 1976.
It was in the late seventies Paul first started to follow Ireland on the road, the standout memory from the first few years then being Jan Ceulemans’ 87th minute winner for Belgium against Eoin Hand’s luckless team at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in 1981 - a result that cost Ireland a place at Espana 82.
Since then, Paul has hardly missed a chance to follow his team - he’s Donegal’s version of Davy Keogh, the famed Dub known for following the boys in green here and there, whom he knows well.
“I used to offer lifts to people from home to go to the international games but I’m from GAA country so often there was no takers,” says Paul, who also follows the fortunes of the Donegal county side.
“I love following the Irish team and it’s easier to name the places I haven’t been to. I’m only missing a few. I’ve never been to Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Greece and Norway in Europe, as well as going to West Germany in 1988, Italia 90, US 94 and South Korea and Japan in 2002. I’ve had only had a couple of bad experiences and the only two places I wouldn’t go back to would be Russia and Turkey.
“We played in Moscow right after the 2002 World Cup and it was just so corrupt. People were getting robbed left, right and centre and that was only when they were dealing with the police!
“Ireland played in Istanbul in 1991 in the last game of the qualifying series for Euro 92 in Sweden. That morning there was only Irish fans going to the game, as Turkey were bottom of the group and already out.
“So in a bid to drum up support they announced there were free tickets for home fans and the place was packed. They pissed down on us from the upper tier. Ireland played really well to win 3-1 but news filtered through from Poznan that Gary Lineker had scored a 73rd minute goal for England against Poland and that was enough to see them through.
“I genuinely believe to this day had we qualified for Euro 92 we could’ve won it - but it was Denmark who did in the end.”
READ THE FULL STORY IN TODAY’S DONEGAL DEMOCRAT.