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  Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK
Some Irish eyes are smiling
Rangers celebrated their win in style
Rangers celebrated their win in style

Now I know how Manchester United fans felt at the end of the 1979 FA Cup Final.

Back then, I didn't give them a thought when Alan Sunderland's dramatic late winner had me hopping around the living room at my home in Omagh.

23 years on, sitting with crestfallen Celtic fans at Hampden Park after Rangers had won the Scottish Cup in similarly dramatic fashion, I felt some belated sympathy for United fans. What a cruel way to lose.

Mind you, Rangers deserved to win. I can hardly recall one clear opening created by Celtic.

Their goals came from set-pieces and Larsson never got a sniff. Hartson battled gamely and got the first goal, but really he posed little threat in the danger area, especially late on.

I couldn't understand why my fellow Ulsterman Martin O'Neill didn't make changes after Rangers equalised for the second time.

The goal deflated Celtic and they looked like a team praying for extra-time.

Celtic players show their dejection
Celtic players show their dejection
Surely Lubo Moravcik was worth throwing in for the last ten minutes.

Forgive me for writing from a Celtic viewpoint. You see, in Northern Ireland you don't choose which Scottish team to support.

It is decided for you from birth. Catholics traditionally follow Celtic and Protestants support Rangers, with very few exceptions.

Why else would thousands of supporters make the arduous journey by boat, bus, train, or a combination of all three, to get to matches?

A few weeks back, many of the Irish connection caught the ferry at 0330BST from Belfast in order to be in Celtic Park for the midday start in the league game.

Reward

Then there was Michael from Newry, another dedicated follower of the Old Firm.

I met this Rangers nut on Saturday morning at Belfast Airport and we travelled together, all the way to Hampden. Michael only got his ticket for the final at 1005BST, when he immediately sprang into action.

Setting off by car he phoned the airlines pleading for a ticket on any flight to Scotland. He was in luck - Easy Jet had one seat left on the 1145 to Edinburgh.

I wondered what Michael would have done if there had been no seats left for him on the flight.

"I'd have got the last boat to Cairnryan and then used my brother's motorbike to get to Hampden with a few minutes to spare. I'd have got there somehow!"

Lovenkrands' second goal won the cup
Lovenkrands' second goal won the cup
At least Michael's efforts were rewarded with the dramatic win, but the other half of Hampden quickly emptied at the final whistle as Celtic fans left the scene of battle, muttering complaints under their collective breath.

"Larsson is burnt out" and "How did Rangers end the game with 11 men?" were the best they could manage.

Hopefully, the fans back in Belfast will have listened to appeals made before the game by politicans for "calm and restraint".

The DUP and Sinn Fein were united in asking supporters not to use the game as an excuse to resort to violent behaviour.

The Irish Mirror's lead story on Saturday morning revealed that the Housing Executive in Belfast had fitted armour plating to the windows of some homes in a flashpoint area because of fears of rioting after the final.

Only a game? Not when it's Celtic v Rangers!


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