Stephen Ireland
Some trivial news of a political and monetary nature to be getting on with from this lovely land of ours before we discuss the real issues of the day.

Apparently, if you are entitled to vote in such things, your presence will be required in Ireland later this year for a referendum on the Fiscal Treaty.

In real terms, that means those of us old enough to vote will be asked to give the ECB and IMF permission to screw us for the rest of our lives as we try to repay debt built up by the bankers and now to be repaid by the tax payers.

In other news from Ireland this week, I can tell you that any property you might have at home is now worth half its value at the height of the Celtic Tiger. That’s a lot of money to drop, no matter how much you paid for a house in the past.

Meanwhile, some 66,000 people have also dropped private health insurance in the past year, the government wants to cut rural transport systems and no agreement can be reached on the site for a new national children’s hospital.

So now to the good news -- Ireland won a rugby match last weekend, Trap’s Army are preparing for battle against the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium this Wednesday night and Cheltenham is just around the corner.

Once again, sport is rescuing us from the horror show that is normal day to day life in Ireland.

On Tuesday afternoon, Giovanni Trapattoni and Robbie Keane addressed the nation’s media in the Grand Hotel out in Malahide, as they always do on the eve of a home game for Ireland’s soccer team.

The reports reaching me -- I am now desk bound and can’t get to such events so often anymore -- tell me that Trap had a mischievous look in his eye, a glint as we like to call it in these parts.

He spoke of the need for his players to make a push for Euro inclusion in Wednesday night’s friendly against the Czech Republic, the second last game before he names his squad for Poznan.

He mentioned the weekend declaration by Stephen Ireland, in the wonderful new Irish Sun on Sunday which I am involved with in case you ask, that he is ready to return to the international fold, but doesn’t want to cost anyone a Euro spot and will wait until the World Cup qualifiers.

And he all but admitted that he knows the names of those who will fly with him to the European Championships, even if the likes of James McClean and Shane Duffy are on the bench for the Czech game and have an outside chance of a jump seat.

The best news of the day, though, didn’t come from Trap or Robbie -- although the Irish captain did comment on it.

The FAI, led by chief executive officer John Delaney, have managed to persuade UEFA to release another 800 tickets, on average, to Irish fans for each of the three Ireland games in Poland this summer.

Thanks to the FAI’s valiant efforts, Trap’s Army is now guaranteed to number almost 7,000 at the very least for each of the matches, against Croatia, Spain and Italy.

Of course, there will be more Irish fans than that following Joxer to Poznan. Even Robbie knows that much.

“I’ll need about 600 of them,” he joked on Tuesday before adding, “We know half the country is going and most of them won’t have tickets. I’ve loads of people looking for tickets.”

Robbie Keane has enough money to buy the stadium in Poznan, never mind a few tickets, but that’s not the point.

Like the rest of us, the Irish captain can’t wait for the summer to arrive and for the attention of the nation to turn to something we can shout about and be proud of once again.

This week, we got a sneak and brief preview of what it will be like come June and Ireland’s return to football’s big stage for the first time in a decade.

As Enda Kenny was getting to his feet in the Dail (Irish Parliament) to announce an EU Fiscal Treaty referendum, so Trapattoni and Robbie were laughing and joking out in Malahide.

Enda may have had a very important message for the nation in the Dail, but we’ve had enough of his pain and hardship for now. All that can be parked for the next few months.

We have a European Championship to look forward to. We have just two more friendlies and then we are back to competitive football.

The sooner it comes around, the better. Shouting for your country certainly beats voting for its future.

Sideline Views

GAA: Referees in Longford have voted to go on strike after their fees were cut by the GAA. And apparently whistle blowers across the country are prepared to follow suit in a row over mileage rates and expenses which will spell chaos for the GAA. Although I know some Louth fans who would be quite happy to see no referee in charge of any match ever again. The reduction in expenses by the way was suggested by the Irish taxman. He must be a Louth fan as well!

SOCCER: Mick McCarthy is in America this week, enjoying a break after his trials and tribulations with Wolves, but he still had time to prove he’s a class act. On Friday, Wolves announced that our Mick would be replaced as manager by his assistant Terry Connor. The first thing Mick did on hearing the news was send Connor a congratulatory text and wish him the best of luck against Newcastle on Saturday. Class act.

HURLING: Kilkenny players and management have been falling over each other to suggest Sunday’s emphatic National Hurling League win over Tipperary will mean nothing come the summer and the championship, but don’t believe them. The Cats looked as good as ever in Nowlan Park last weekend and will still be the team to beat for the rest of the year. Even Tipp will know that much.

SOCCER: The FAI and the Irish players have reached agreement on payment for the European finals which is good news, but I doubt anyone took up Shay Given’s offer to pay to play for his country during a promotional visit to Dublin last week. I just hope the Troika – the EU, IMF and ECB -- didn’t hear him or they might chase the cash. In my day, a Troika was a sort of bicycle.

SOCCER: It won’t make any difference, but Harry Redknapp will be pleased to know that Robbie Keane believes his former Spurs boss would make a great England manager. Robbie has seen a few managers in his time with clubs and country so the endorsement will doubtless please his old gaffer.

SOCCER: Liverpool fans are still celebrating their Carling Cup final win over Cardiff on Sunday but surely it is about time the Reds challenged for real honors in England? Just a thought before they get carried away with a second rate Cup.

RUGBY: Rob Kearney announced on Tuesday that he wants a big start from Ireland against France in Paris this Sunday. After the last gasp postponement a fortnight ago, we’d be happy just to see a start.

GOLF: Rory McIlroy is only three tournaments away from the Masters and a return to Augusta. After last year’s drama that’s one televised sports event you dare not miss.

SOCCER: Welsh fans will remember their former manager Gary Speed at a memorial match against Costa Rica on Wednesday night. Still hard to believe he’s dead.


TOP class sport needs new names to emerge on a continual basis, and hurling is no different. Last weekend Niall Burke scored 10 points for Galway and Conor Lehan scored seven points from play for Cork to announce their arrival on the National Hurling League stage. Remember the names – you might be hearing a lot more of them this summer.


SOME idiots up North have been tormenting Shane Duffy and James McClean, via Twitter, for their decision to switch allegiances from Northern Ireland to the Republic. Both players have vowed to ignore the Twitter twits, but it must be very hard not to reply to them -- and in similar derogatory language at that. The best thing for Duffy and McClean to do, of course, is to have really successful careers with the Republic and shut them up on the field.