A few weeks ago in London the inevitable Thierry Henry question landed at the feet of Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll at a press conference to celebrate the launch of the 2010 RBS Six Nations season.

Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes are back at the Stade de France this coming Saturday afternoon for the biggest test in their defense of an achievement that was 61 years in the waiting.

This is the first meeting of the two nations since that fateful night in November when cheat Henry handled the ball not once but twice before crossing for William Gallas’s decisive goal. Naturally enough the Henry handball will play a part in the build-up to Saturday’s big match.

Dricco discovered as much a month ago in the English capital, and he rediscovered that much in the Dublin suburb of Killiney on Tuesday afternoon.

Perched at the top table after Irish coach Declan Kidney unveiled the team to play the French, O’Driscoll found himself back on handball duty.

And once again, in the Fitzpatrick group’s Castle hotel, he displayed better footwork than the Barcelona striker and France captain, tackled the issue head on and then delivered the answer all Ireland wanted to hear.

O’Driscoll and Ireland want to win in Paris on Saturday evening. They desperately want the victory that will, in some small way, atone for our upset in that World Cup playoff late last year.

The revenge the Irish soccer fans want will give O’Driscoll and his fellow players some little satisfaction this coming weekend -- but their quest for victory has, in reality, nothing to do with Trap’s Army.

Nor has it anything to do with a glorious chapter in Ireland’s sporting past enacted on the very same Stade de France pitch.

It is hard to believe, but it is 10 years ago next month that a very youthful Brian O’Driscoll crossed the French line not once, not twice, but three times in a sensational Ireland win.

That victory announced Dricco’s arrival on the world stage and put rugby on the front page of every national newspaper in Ireland.

Like the inevitable Henry handball question, mention was made of that O’Driscoll hat-trick in the Killiney Castle hotel on Tuesday afternoon.

The answer was again diplomatic, but that memory was kicked to touch just the same.

“What happened in the past has nothing to do with this game, it was 10 years ago so why would it have?” asked Bod in reply.

“Yes, it was a great win and we did think we had ended the run of defeats in the stadium that day and would win there again, but the truth is we haven’t.

“That’s what counts this Saturday, an Ireland win against France in their own backyard for rugby reasons. We want to retain the Six Nations title, and to do that we need to win in Paris in a fixture we haven’t won for 10 years.

“That’s all that matters. Everything else is history and won’t affect this game.”

The Ireland captain’s focused vision is, of course, to be commended.

On their last two visits to the Stade De France the Ireland rugby team have allowed the French to build up massive halftime leads, and haven’t been able to catch them.

What happened 10 years ago and what happened last November won’t stop France doing the same this coming weekend, particularly if Ireland doesn’t step on last Saturday’s poor second half against Italy.

Only an inspirational O’Driscoll performance, a huge commitment from the Ireland pack and a collection of cool heads, on the field and in the coach’s dug-out, will prompt another Irish win this Saturday.

Such a victory will of course be history -- and that’s the only history Brian O’Driscoll is interested in as he prepares to fly to Paris on Thursday afternoon.

He will travel with victory as his only companion. The rest of us can remember that hat-trick of tries in 2000 and seek revenge for that Henry handball.

If Brian O’Driscoll can lead Ireland to the win then we’ll all be happy.

Good and Bad Euro Draw

THE draw for the qualifying rounds of the European Championships is a great one for the Irish -- but only if it is judged on pure football terms.

Russia, like us, didn’t qualify for the World Cup finals and are likely to have a new manager by the time we play them in the autumn.

Slovakia are going to South Africa essentially with the side that was beaten by Ireland at Croke Park and drew with Steve Staunton’s side in Bratislava in what was to be Stephen Ireland’s final game for his country.

Macedonia did do a number on Mick McCarthy’s team in Skopje back in the last century, but they have done little since to cause concern.

We’ve never played Armenia at home or away but their world ranking is fairly poor, while Andorra should be little more than target practise for a striker of Robbie Keane’s prowess.

If Ireland play with the same passion and panache displayed in Paris last November, then qualification for Poland and the Ukraine in 2012 is definitely on the cards.

That’s the good news for followers of Giovanni Trapattoni’s teams.

The bad news for the supporters is that travel is going to be a nightmare for the Green Army, with four trips behind the old Iron Curtain to Russia, Slovakia, Macedonia and Armenia.

And the news for the FAI is even worse. For a start there’s no real television money to be made from the visit of Russia to Dublin, certainly nothing like the riches on offer if, say, Germany or France were to come to town.

Nor will this draw entice anyone into buying a 10-year ticket for the new Aviva Stadium now sitting proudly on the site of the old Lansdowne Road.

The FAI are currently paying off their ***80 million share of the Lansdowne redevelopment, so this draw may be good for Trap but it’s not good for those who pay his wages.

Maybe that makes qualification for 2012 all the more necessary now for Irish football and those who fund it.

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Team morale is now very important to Stephen Ireland, so important that he has come out in total support of Manchester City mate Wayne Bridge after revelations of his partner’s affair with love rat John Terry.

Is this the same Stephen Ireland who walked out on his Irish teammates in Bratislava and invented stories about his dead grannies?

Is it the same Stephen Ireland who has repeatedly refused to help his Irish teammates qualify for the World Cup or European Championship finals?

Nice publicity stunt, Stephen, but I’ll regard your new found interest in team bonding as a Bridge too far if you don’t mind.

GAA: Fresh from throwing a duster at a wall -- the duster subsequently hit one of his pupils -- the primary school teacher and Kerry footballer Paul Galvin is in the wars again after a rather contentious reaction to a decision by referee Rory Hickey in the NFL defeat to Dublin on Sunday. Galvin is unlikely to be punished by the GAA, but the media reaction to his latest brush with officialdom suggests he is a marked man. I wonder why.

SOCCER: Giovanni Trapattoni is to ignore the clamor for English rejects and stick with the tried and trusted for the March friendly with Brazil in London. That means no call-up for the likes of Kevin Nolan, who has already played for England’s under-21s and a good thing too.

SOCCER: Ireland wannabe Gary McSheffrey is to further his international ambitions at Leeds United after moving to the League One side on loan from Birmingham. That may impress the Scots, but I doubt it will cut much mustard with a certain Giovanni Trapattoni.

OLYMPICS: Australia have objected to Ireland’s participation in the women’s bobsleigh at the forthcoming Olympics, with top official Pat Hickey claiming there will be riots in Dublin if is his team is thrown out of the games. I’m not too sure on that one Pat.


FORMER Irish international Stephen McPhail made his return to professional football with Cardiff City last weekend, just five weeks after extensive chemotherapy to treat cancer. McPhail’s bravery and his determination to get back to normal as quickly as possible deserve to be applauded. The Bluebirds lost the game 5-1, but I doubt McPhail cared.


FIFA did it again this week when they appointed Swedish referee Martin Hansson to the panel of match officials for this summer’s World Cup finals in South Africa. And yes, that is the same Martin Hansson who missed Thierry Henry’s blatant handball not once but twice in the playoff game with Ireland in Paris last November. How Hansson is still a referee is a mystery, but now he’s going to the World Cup and we’re not. Bizarre.