|Paul McShane (left) celebrates his equalizing goal against Leicester on Saturday.|
Just two summers ago the Ireland soccer team played Italy in an end of season friendly in the Belgian city of Liege, the sort of fixture that raises much needed cash for the FAI with no financial risk to the association that governs the game here at home.
A similar game will take place at Yankee Stadium in New York next month when world champions Spain will take on Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland before they travel on to Brazil for the Confederations Cup tournament that traditionally precedes the World Cup.
Now before you go splashing your hard earned dollars on tickets for the Ireland-Spain fixture, be warned -- such games will never have a competitive edge about them.
They can’t. For a start they are non-competitive by their very nature and for another thing, most players worth their salt are either on holiday already or thinking of it by the time such games come around.
That explains why the team that started in Liege two years ago next month had a very unfamiliar ring to it, at the time. Players like Seamus Coleman, Shane Long, Kevin Foley and Stephen Ward all got a chance to impress in that match, and some took it.
For others, the night was even more significant as Ireland scored a shock 2-0 win over Trap’s native land courtesy of goals from Simon Cox and Keith Andrews.
Millwall’s Galwegian David Forde started in goals in that game, but he also brought the Italians to a standstill 24 hours earlier when he conducted a press conference beneath the stand at the stadium – and promptly blocked the entrance for the Italy team bus.
Pirlo, Rossi and Balotelli all had a puzzled look on their face as this unknown goalkeeper and a posse of Irish journalists stood between them and the entrance to the pitch.
The next night, Forde frustrated the Italians again as he kept a clean sheet on his first start for his country. And you’ll be glad to know that Forde will be taking the visit to New York next month seriously, even though it means he will get only a two week holiday before he has to return for pre-season training with Millwall.
“I’ve waited so long to play for my country, I am not going to miss matches now,” he said in Dublin this week. “I will be in America.”
So will the man of the moment Paul McShane, a player with his own tale from Liege as well.
Trapattoni elected McShane as his captain on that night in the Belgian city and the day before the game, the former Manchester United defender spoke of his pride at the choice.
“It will sound strange to you all but I want to be Ireland’s permanent captain,” said McShane at the press conference that evening.
And yes, it did seem strange to the assembled media, not least because McShane has never been a regular in the Ireland team.
What is consistent about him is his level of commitment to the shirt and the team. He has never let Ireland down, even when his ability has been questioned by the same media and even the fans, and he has never refused to answer his country’s call.
He’s still waiting to captain his country again, but the luck he deserves finally came his way for McShane on Saturday when he scored the goal that sent Hull City back to the Premier League on a dramatic final day of action in the Championship.
There was nothing pretty about McShane’s equalizer in the 2-2 draw at home to Leicester City, but it was bloody effective. And it was worth about $100 million to his club.
He waited a long time for his moment in the sun but when the chance arose, McShane took it.
He’s never going to be the best player in the world, and he might only ever captain Ireland in end of season friendlies again, like the one on the way in New York, but Paul McShane is a hero in Hull this week.
And his fame may well last longer than 15 minutes.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
RUGBY: Ulster hooker Rory Best is very sore about his omission from the Lions squad for the tour to Australia, and upset at the fact that he had to learn his fate on live television the same as everyone else, player or non player. The selection process and the announcement of the squad at a live press conference is a Lions tradition, but it is not easy on the likes of Best as he admitted this week. Thankfully he is man enough to dust himself down and get on with it. And I suspect he will get a late call-up as a replacement.