Trapattoni coaches visitors to GAA restrooms

It's incredible what you find in the toilets at Croke Park some 125 years after the formation of the GAA at a meeting in a backroom of Hayes Hotel in Thurles.

There I was on Saturday night, in situ for the Star’s annual GAA awards banquet, when the need arose to spend a penny.

We were high up on the premium level of the impressive Hogan Stand when nature called, and I excused myself from a table that included the great Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin.

Eoin, by the way, was on crutches, the byproduct of an operation some days earlier to repair damaged cartilage on his hip and, yes, we did swap surgical notes after my recent brush with a knee surgeon.

Suffice to say that my story of sporting woe didn’t attract much sympathy next to Eoin’s tale of pain at the end of a season that saw him gain another All-Ireland winners medal.

Eoin plans to be well back in action by the time the Cats defend their Leinster and All-Ireland titles next season when Galway will present a mouth watering in the provincial championships at the very least.

But I digress. Back to the Croker loo -- and on my own at that!

Upon opening the door a familiar face greeted me from the far wall of the GAA lavatory, a face I never thought I’d see sitting patiently on a wall at the home of the country’s biggest and most patriotic sporting organization.

But there he was, smiling away in all his glory -- Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Irish soccer boss, the most successful club manager in the history of European football, beamed down on all those looking for relief with a simple message from his billboard advertisement, a message of hope.

The ad in question was paid for by Irish soccer team sponsors eircom, and the more I looked around the expansive toilet the more I saw Giovanni smiling down at me from every angle as I spent the proverbial penny.

I wasn’t the only one to get the full attention of the Trapattoni stare. I’m sure Eoin Larkin hobbled in there at some stage.

His fellow guests Paul Galvin and Ger Loughnane and even Martin McHugh would probably have used the same toilet at some stage of the proceedings. Caught in the Trap, one and all.

Seeing as how we were all gathered in Croker on the eve of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the Gaelic Athletic Association, it was pleasing to see how far the GAA has come in recent times.

Some 25 years ago, when Sean Boylan’s Meath won the first and last Centenary Cup to celebrate the GAA’s 100th birthday, the thought of an Irish soccer manager’s face on a Croke Park wall was unthinkable.

They’d have laughed you out of the old Hogan Stand for daring to suggest such a thing, never mind predicting that the Irish rugby and soccer teams would happily use Croke Park for their home matches.

But things have moved on for the GAA, far more so in the last 25 years than they had done in the previous 100. And, dare I say it, more so in the last five years than they have done at any other stage of the association’s history.

Who’d have thought five years ago, for example, that a great hurler like Donal Og Cusack would be brave enough to openly declare his sexuality and have a poem written in his honor by award winning author Colm Toibin to boot?

And who’d have imagined that multiple Champions League winner Giovanni Trapattoni would lead an Irish soccer team out for a World Cup playoff against France on Jones Road some 24 hours before Ireland’s Grand Slam rugby heroes would play Australia on the same pitch?

You see, it’s amazing what can go through your head when you’re draining the spuds, as Pat Short might say on our TV comedy Killinascully.

And looking at Trap’s smiling face on Saturday night a thought occurred -- wouldn’t it be great if the same Trapattoni could inspire one of the greatest upsets in the history of world sport on the very same Croke Park pitch?

Of course the French are red hot favorites to knock Ireland out of the World Cup over the two legs of the playoffs that will decide the final European contestants in South Africa next summer.

But hope, as Trap’s advert suggests, springs eternal wherever Irish sport is concerned, and Croker has seen more than its fair share of huge upsets in the past.

To make it to those World Cup finals, Trap’s team will need to keep a clean sheet in Dublin, catch the French on the hop in Paris and pray like hell.

It may sound like a mission impossible, but 25 years ago the prospect of an Ireland-France game on the hallowed turf would have been dismissed as nonsensical, as would the talk of a Republic of Ireland soccer team making it to any World Cup finals.

We’ve been to three in the meantime and a European Championships to boot. We’ve even beaten England and Italy on the biggest stages of them all, in Germany and New York respectively.

And we will dream of another big Irish shock a week from Saturday because, as Trap said to me in the loo last weekend, there’s always hope. Always.

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