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At least Celtic’s Neil Lennon doesn't disappoint

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Stephen Kelly.

Expectation can be a manager or coach’s best friend and biggest enemy as events in Dublin and Glasgow in recent days have served to prove.

By the time you read this, Glasgow Celtic will have played Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out clash, potentially the biggest game of any of their lives.

The build-up to the match has been intense. Our colleagues at the Scottish Sun devoted nine pages to the game on Tuesday morning, and several Irish papers even sent their soccer correspondents to Glasgow for the day.

Neil Lennon, the much under-rated Celtic manager, was both enthusiastic and confident before the clash, and we wouldn’t expect anything from less from a man who has never been afraid to wear his heart or his convictions on his sleeve.

By the time this column appears those of you who care about Celtic -- and there are many all across the world -- will know what became of Lenny’s ambition against the grand old lady of Italian football.

Before this column was put together, with tender loving care as always, two other coaches learned a little more about their fate when expectation meets reality in the world of top class sport.

Last week, the Irish footballers beat Poland 2-0 in a Dublin friendly that looked beyond them for much of a Wednesday evening at the Aviva Stadium.

The result will serve our soccer stars well ahead of the World Cup showdowns with Sweden and Austria next month, but the events that followed don’t augur quite so well for our national team boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Italian famously fell out with the mild-mannered Reading defender Stephen Kelly last October when the Dubliner stormed out of the team’s hotel ahead of the trip to the Faroes.

Kelly’s unhappiness, similar to outbursts from the likes of Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and Kevin Foley, was based on a lack of opportunity under Trap.

He was particularly aggrieved that, like Gibson, he never got a sniff of the action, even when all was lost at the European Championships in Poland last September.

When told to stay or go Kelly went, only to be enticed back by the FAI, well aware that one of their senior players was being poorly treated by their manager.

That should have been the end of the matter, even when the story went public.  Trap was told as much after hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth in the wake of the 6-1 defeat to Germany.

Imagine the FAI’s surprise, then, when Trap chose to have another pop at Kelly in his post-match press conference last Thursday, suggesting the player wanted a “play me or else” guarantee from his manager.
Nothing, as anyone who has ever met Kelly will tell you, could be further from the truth, and the defender wasn’t slow to let the public know via a statement issued on Friday morning.

The telling response from the FAI, printed elsewhere on these pages, was to take issue with Trapattoni’s behavior, admit it was wrong and all but confirm that his days as boss are over as soon as our interest in the World Cup qualifying stakes comes to an end.

That could be just five weeks from now if we lose to Sweden and Austria.  And by then Declan Kidney could be out of a job as well.

As discussed on this page just a few shorts week ago, Kidney and Trap have to deliver in the coming weeks or their reigns will end.

Both still have time to rectify matters, but there was little in Ireland’s drab performance in Sunday’s Six Nations defeat to England at the same Aviva to suggest they can still pull the championship out of the fire.
Expectations were great going into that England game, and Team Ireland failed to deliver.

In such circumstances someone has to pay the price. Declan Kidney’s name is on that check, and Giovanni Trapattoni’s signature is all that’s missing from the FAI pay-off check.

Only time will tell us where this story is going to end – and a short time span at that.

Grown Up Darragh a Star
A WONDERFUL story unfolded at Croke Park on Sunday, one that was never going to compete with the Six Nations or Giovanni Trapattoni’s latest rant for the back page headlines but one that was far more worthy of column inches.

Six years ago or so, Darragh McGarry’s story touched the hearts of the nation when he stood on the steps of the Hogan Stand and helped Henry Shefflin lift the McCarthy Cup on behalf of Kilkenny people everywhere.

Darragh was a special guest of the Kilkenny squad that day, a squad that included his goalkeeper father James McGarry in its proud ranks.

Just weeks before the 2007 All-Ireland final Vanessa McGarry, Darragh’s mother and James’ beloved wife, lost her life in a car crash.

His presence alongside the great Henry Shefflin was never meant to erase Darragh’s pain, just ease it.
It also touched heartstrings up and down the land as Henry shared one of his proudest moments with his teammate’s 11-year-old son.

Fast forward almost six years and Darragh was back on the steps of the Hogan Stand, this time as the teenage captain of the Thomastown team that defeated Fullen Gaels of Warwickshire in the All-Ireland junior club hurling final.

Like his dad, Darragh is a goalkeeper and clearly one of great promise as his performance in Sunday’s final suggested.

His emotional story, and his journey from heartache to triumph at Croke Park, may not count for much next to the Champions League or rugby’s Grand Slam, but it deserves to be told.

And something tells me we haven’t heard the last of Darragh McGarry. Doubtless his mother would be proud of him.

Sideline Views
RUGBY: The headline writers had a field day on Sunday when Brian O’Driscoll’s wife gave birth to daughter Sadie just hours before the Six Nations defeat to England at the Aviva Stadium. Brian was in Holles Street hospital for the early morning birth and rushed back there after the game. He was also there on Monday morning when headlines like “The Bodfather” and “Baby Blues” greeted him from the front and back pages. Whatever about the rugby result, Sunday was a huge day in Dricco’s life and events in that delivery ward were far more important that the action on the Lansdowne Road pitch. He’ll know exactly what that statement means now.

GOLF: Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy traveled the world as Irish kids learning the golf game and are the best of friends, but that will count for nothing if they meet, as expected, in the first round of the World Match Play in Arizona next week. Barring a late withdrawal, which would pit Lowry against Tiger Woods, the two mates will meet in what will be McIlroy’s second public appearance since switching to Nike clubs. They didn’t do him any good when he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last month, and Lowry is promising no mercy in America next week. Should be fascinating to watch.

GAA: The Railway Cups, or the inter-provincial series as they are now known, are back in action this weekend, but clearly some big GAA names see them as nothing more than a distraction on a crowded fixture list. The Kildare footballers don’t feature on the Leinster squad picked by former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy, and they will not be alone in their disdain for what was once a big, big tournament. Maybe it is time to scrap it after all.

SOCCER: Robbie Keane announced at an LA Galaxy press briefing on Monday night that he wants to be a manager when he hangs his boots up. The way Ireland are going – and losing the FAI money – he could be player-manager by the end of the season if the World Cup bid comes a cropper against Sweden and Austria.

SOCCER: James McClean announced after the win over Poland the other night that he will never wear a Remembrance Day poppy. As a Derry native he is entitled to that opinion in light of the Bloody Sunday atrocity. But why go public on it and attract attention?

HERO OF THE WEEK
WES Hoolahan can only do his talking on the field as far as proving Giovanni Trapattoni wrong is concerned, so his substitute appearance and goal against Poland last week was both timely and sublime. Wessi, as the Norwich fans are now calling him, may not start against Sweden next month thanks to Trap’s rigid love for 4-4-2, but at least he is in the reckoning now.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK
THERE is no doubting Giovanni Trapattoni’s pedigree as a manager, but the feeling his time has come and gone grows with every day. Criticizing Stephen Kelly, one of the mildest and most pleasant footballers I have ever met, as he did last week seems to be the final straw as far as many FAI blazers are concerned. And once the FAI blazers decide you’re gone, you’re gone.

 

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