First off, a word of warning if you’re crossing the big pond and flying into Nicosia for Saturday’s crucial World Cup showdown between Ireland and Cyprus -– Barney is in town.
Yes folks, the world’s favorite dinosaur and his cohorts BJ and Baby Bop are live at the To Skali Amphitheatre in the Cypriot capital all this weekend.
They’re even learning Greek for the purpose of their tour of all the major towns on the southern half of Cyprus, but I’m sure they’ll still sing their “I Love You, You Love Me” anthem in English.
Having sat through a Barney show in Clontarf Castle many years ago, I can’t say I’d recommend the pleasure to anyone looking for something to do the night before the game.
But the actor who fills the Baby Bop suit can rest easy –- he won’t be the only grown man walking around Nicosia in a silly green outfit this weekend.
Even though the recession has hit Trap’s Army, there is still talk of almost 3,000 green clad Ireland fans hitting the Mediterranean for the latest edition of the “Biggest Game Ireland Have Played Under Giovanni Trapattoni.”
I know we said that before the visit to Italy in March and again when we went to Sofia and drew with Bulgaria in June, but this game really is massive and for a number of reasons.
For a start, Ireland can make their draw with the Bulgarians really count for something by winning on Saturday night, a result that would all but rule the Bulgars out of the qualifying picture.
The three points on offer in Nicosia’s GSP Stadium would also effectively guarantee Trap’s team the second spot in the Group Eight table and a place in the November playoffs.
Trap himself believes that Italy will slip up between now and their visit to Dublin in October, and that victory over Cyprus could be the result to push Ireland closer to winning the group and securing automatic qualification for South Africa next summer.
All of the above is relevant –- bar the bit about Barney of course.
But really one thing matters more than anything when the Irish land in Larnaca Airport on Thursday and open the door to some 32 degrees of heat -– revenge!
Anybody who suffered through the 5-2 defeat the last time Ireland played on this sun-kissed Mediterranean Island will know exactly what I am talking about.
The players and the manager have been keen to talk down the significance of that humiliation in October of 2006 but trust me, one of the worst results in the history of Irish football has a major relevance to this fixture.
Cyprus regard that win as one of their finest moments ever in international sport, and so they should. The Ireland players who played that night regard it as the low point of their international careers, as well they should.
Already this week the likes of Kevin Kilbane, who played in that game, and Shay Given, who didn’t, have tried to dismiss the theory that revenge will be a factor come Saturday night, but it has to be.
The 5-2 reversal last time out was the beginning of the end for Steve Staunton’s reign as manager, and the beginning of the end for the team’s hopes of qualification for Euro 2008. Paddy Kenny, Andy O’Brien and Clinton Morrison haven’t kicked a ball for Ireland since that fateful night, so the players know exactly what’s at stake this weekend.
Defeat this Saturday wouldn’t spell the end of our World Cup hopes, but it wouldn’t do them any favors either.
An Ireland win can send a huge message of intent in the direction of South Africa with the revenge factor a little extra sweetener for Robbie Keane, et al.
All of which makes this the biggest game of the Trapattoni era -– again!
St. Ledger doubtful for Cyprus
SEAN St. Ledger is a major injury doubt for Ireland’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Cyprus on Saturday after he picked up a knee injury on club duty with Preston last weekend.
Irish boss Giovanni Trapattoni is awaiting a full assessment of St. Ledger’s fitness before he makes a final decision on the player’s chances of partnering new Aston Villa signing Richard Dunne in Nicosia.
Trapattoni has reported no other injury problems ahead of Thursday's departure for the Mediterranean island.
Meanwhile, Shay Given has urged his Irish teammates not to let history repeat itself in Nicosia on Saturday night as Ireland look for revenge against Cyprus.
Given was a frustrated television spectator back home on Tyneside when Steve Staunton’s Ireland were humiliated in a 5-2 defeat to the Cypriots three years ago next month.
The then Newcastle United ‘keeper missed that game through injury and wanted to hide his head in shame as he watched the drama unfold on a big screen at his local Irish club.
But Given is confident that lightning will not strike twice this weekend when an Irish win will keep the pressure on Group Eight leaders Italy and all but guarantee a place in the playoffs.