|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.
GAA: First Tom Cruise and now Beyonce. It seems like the list of celebrities following the Roscommon Gaelic football team is growing by the team. Native Rossie Chris O’Dowd is the reason why Beyonce now counts as a fan after tweeting a pic of the celebrity pair together with the caption “If you’re wondering, she’s smiling because she’s excited with Roscommon’s GAA prospects this year.” Tom Cruise was also presented with a Roscommon jersey on his recent visit to Ireland. Let’s hope all these celebs get a run for their money with Roscommon this summer.
HURLING: Kilkenny aren’t having it all their own way in the hurling world. On Saturday, with Brian Cody in the Nowlan Park crowd for the first time since his heart surgery, their minor team lost to Wexford in the Leinster Championship. The result was something of a shock, but the fact that Wexford hadn’t beat Kilkenny at minor level since 1985 probably means talk of a crisis is premature. And they did win the senior national league title the following day – without Cody on the sidelines or in the stands.
GOLF: Rory McIlroy and Seb Coe contributed to the great Olympic debate again this week when Rory insisted he will make up his own mind who to play for in Brazil, and Coe said he should be allowed to get on with it in his own good time. Personally, I think we are all sick of the story now. And the best thing Rory can do, still, is sit out the Olympics. That way he will avoid all this grief.
SOCCER: I knew I was getting old when a 12-year-old boy played in a European Tour event in China last week. Now comes the news that Bebeto’s son Mattheus Oliveira has signed for Juventus at the age of 19. What’s incredible here is that Bebeto’s son was the inspiration for his “rocking the baby” celebrations at the 1994 World Cup in America – when we were all a lot younger. This age thing sure does catch up with you.
SOCCER: So Robbie Keane has moved ahead of World Cup cheat Thierry Henry in the MLS wages stakes with an annual salary just over $4 million. Good luck to the Irish captain. He deserves to see out his career with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and they will get value for their money. Hopefully he still has something to offer Ireland as well before collecting his pension.
SOCCER: Wolves sacked manager Dean Saunders on Tuesday, days after their relegation from the championship on Saturday. The former Wales striker was their third manager since they got rid of Mick McCarthy in February of last year. Mick, by the way, has just steered Ipswich to safety in the same championship. Bet they regret sacking him now.
SNOOKER: Ronnie O’Sullivan won a fifth world championship and a second on the spin in Sheffield on Sunday night, days after he claimed he was going to quit the game once again. As promoter Barry Hearn said, Ronnie has made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra so expect to see him back at the Crucible this time next year.
RUGBY: Geordan Murphy announced his retirement from rugby with immediate effect on Tuesday after 16 years with Leicester and 74 caps with Ireland. He is to carry on as a coach with the Tigers but his presence on the pitch will be missed. Murphy was a nice guy as well and always a pleasure to interview.
HERO OF THE WEEK
PAUL McShane scored the greatest goal of his life with the equalizer against Leicester on Saturday, the goal that sent Hull City back into the Premier League. Just a few years ago he was getting so much stick at Hull that he considered quitting the game, but now he’s a hero on Humberside. Such is football.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
LAR Corbett and JJ Delaney got involved in an off the ball incident in Sunday’s NHL final that cost them both red cards and a suspension for the forthcoming championship action. The altercation was needless and silly and didn’t do anything for a game they have both enhanced with their presence on the Tipperary and Kilkenny teams respectively in recent years.