World Cup - Paris Postcard: A heartbreaking night
Eurosport Yahoo!'s SeŠn Fay was in the Irish section of the Stade de France on Wednesday night to witness a heartbreaking occasion for all Irish football fans.
When it happened, we couldn't see it. We were all at the other end of the ground but we saw that Shay Given was going nuts and knew that something must be up.
Then the texts came.
I got four in a matter of seconds, the guy beside me five. After the match, another fan waved his far fancier phone in the air and said he had received "at least 30 emails"; the texts would continue to flood in all evening, and they were all variations on the same theme.
"Definite handball", read one; "clearest handball ever, I promise you", said another; and "100 per cent a handball, twice - and offside too".
"Gutted", "cheated", "robbed"... they trickled in throughout the night and from people from all over the world too; it seemed everyone was sympathising with our plight. That's nice to know, but it hardly eases the pain.
Backtrack a couple of hours and the mood was entirely different. O'Sullivan's Irish pub beside the Moulin Rouge seemed to be the meeting point for many, but the exorbitant price of booze in French bars meant it was the local off licence that was doing the big business.
Call it a recessionary measure if you will, but the more boisterous Irish fans had converged on to the streets with bags of cans in tow. There were still long queues to get into O'Sullivan's - but only to use the toilets.
"Ooooooh Trapattoni... he used to be Italian, but he's Irish now!" they sang.
The fans were in great mood, thoroughly relaxed in fact: it was almost as if France had done everyone a favour by winning the first leg 1-0 in Dublin. By taking the pressure off we could have fun, a party! Okay, so we weren't going to go through; but it wasn't the end of the world. It had been a good campaign and we intended to go out with a bang.
Nobody was bringing up the now-tiresome argument over whether Andy Reid should be in the squad - and as for Stephen Ireland?
"Ooooooh Stephen Ireland, he used to be an Irishman, he's English now."
A hefty riot police presence then came to "restore order", but they soon realised that the worst that was going to happen was they were going to be asked to either (a) take some photos or (b) pose for some photos. They left after 20 minutes when they finally realised there was nothing for them to police.
"Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio."
Then it was time to go to the ground. There were no seats on the metro out to the Stade de France but that didn't stop the fans signing "sit down for the boys in Green" in hushed tones before bursting back up for its stand-up equivalent; some locals even joined in.
Bottles and cans were still being swigged from on the walk to the stadium and everyone was buzzing as they entered it. "Get a couple more beers in" said one fan. "But they only have non-alcoholic," replied his mate. "Forget it so."
The anthem was roared out with gusto, and just like the last time the Irish played in Paris back in 2004, the French anthem was sung too with the lyrics consisting entirely of "de de de".
Then the match started, and a surprising thing happened: we were playing well - really well. Our much-derided midfield were dominating, we looked organised yet inventive, disciplined yet ambitious.
Then we scored.
Twelve thousand people morphed into a single ecstatic green wave of exuberant joy. It was bliss, but it was accompanied by a queasy sense of uneasiness. Everyone knew instantly what the feeling was - it was rediscovered hope.
"Bloody hell, we could do this."
But we didn't, and we were never going to do it: forces beyond our control were working against us. For some reason this World Cup didn't want little old Ireland.
We were put in the same group as the world champions, and remained unbeaten throughout; not quite enough to finish top, but we were happy to take our chances in the play-offs. We could definitely beat someone like Bosnia and it was going to be an open draw after all - or so we thought.
But UEFA decided at the last minute to seed the draw. Big boys France would be seeded of course, and we would not. The fact that the president of UEFA is a Frenchman does not quite sit right for Irish people today.
There was Anelka's deflected goal in the first leg and Liam Lawrence's deflected miss at the other end. It just wasn't our night at Croke Park - but in Paris it should have been.
Given the limitations of the Irish squad, it was an astonishing performance in the Stade de France. We were the better team for long periods and the fact that the French goalkeeper was the man of the match told its own story. It is hard to imagine that any other manager could have come up with a more effective tactical game-plan than that of Giovanni Trapattoni.
A penalty shoot-out was the least we deserved. Sure, we might have lost it, and that would have been devastating in its own way, but it wouldn't have hurt quite like this.
Hopefully, when the dust settles on the game, we will look back mainly with a sense of pride on the performance. It is not that this pride does not already exist; it is just that, at the moment, it is struggling to be felt over an enormous sense of utter injustice.
France will go to the World Cup thanks to their very own "hand of God", and good luck to them; but for every Irish fan, the hand of Henry is covered in blood.