Italian Dundalk fan ready for Croatia

Jacopo Ghirardon, pictured with Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny on his visit to Oriel Park last year
It will be planes, trains and automobiles again for Dundalk fans this week s they descend on Croatia for the second leg of their Europa League qualifier with Hajduk Split.

It will be planes, trains and automobiles again for Dundalk fans this week s they descend on Croatia for the second leg of their Europa League qualifier with Hajduk Split.

But fans will not just be departing from the town - with one dedicated follower making a 1,100km round trip from Italy by car to cheer on Stephen Kenny’s side.

Jacopo Ghirardon, from Chioggia, near Venice in Italy, will leave his home early on Thursday morning and hopes to arrive in Split by middway to meet up with Dundalk fans.

But, how does a 21-year-old born and bred Italian fall in love with the Lilywhites?

“I went on a school trip to Ireland in 2008 to improve my English and watched a game between Bray Wanderers and Galway and I have followed the league ever since. The game wasn’t great but I loved the atmosphere,” he told The Dundalk Democrat.

“My team in Italy went bankrupt and I like to follow European football so now I am a proud supporter of the League of Ireland.”

When it came to Dundalk, his love for the club was surprisingly borne during one of the most difficult seasons the club ever had to endure: that infamous campaign of 2012 that almost spelled the end.

He continued: “I decided to follow Dundalk closely in 2012 after the difficult season which the club had that year.

“I was very sad to see what happened to my team happen to a great club with great tradition so since the relegation play-off against Waterford I have pledged my support to them.

“Thankfully Dundalk won that game and survived due to the fantastic support from the fans and people of the town.”

Since then, Jacopo has been following the club closely from afar and in October last year, made the pilgrimage to Oriel Park to see his side up close for the first time.

He booked time off from his job working on Venice’s vaporetto’s (water buses) and travelled to watch Dundalk beat Cork City 4-0.

“Last season was incredible and that was a fantastic trip. I had already made friends through social media but the fans made me feel like one of them and I really appreciated that,” he added.

“We became great friends and three fans even came to my town in April! That’s the main reason I’m going to Split: for friendship born beause of this great football club.”

He will race home immediately afterwards as he is working the next day but he has never thought about cancelling the trip after the first leg.

“Nothing changes! Hopefully we can get the result at the Poljud that we deserved at home and even if we go out, we can focus on the league.”