Football Association of Ireland's chief executive John Delaney (Photo: Irish Voice)

John Delaney’s face was beaming out at us from the Sky Sports satellite on Tuesday morning, a timely appearance on our screens by the FAI chief executive ahead of Friday’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Sweden.

The most powerful man in Irish football, and he is just that, wasn’t actually in the country when the results of a week-long behind the scenes documentary were broadcast on Sky Sports News.

Just as the closing credits on the exclusive interview were rolling, John was probably getting out of his bed in a Washington hotel and getting ready to meet another powerful man.

Barack Obama is, as far as I know, a bit of a basketball fan, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will a fully paid up member of the Green Army by the time JD is finished with him.

The Irish soccer boss was in the White House on Tuesday for the traditional shamrock ceremony that marks the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. every year.

He was there with our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and the Labor Party leader Eamon Gilmore, there to celebrate Ireland and the Irish with the head of a country who makes a difference to our economic plight.

It’s unlikely that international football was too high on Kenny’s agenda when he got to shoot the breeze with Moneygall’s favorite son.  Topics like the undocumented and the problems facing the illegal Irish in America were far more likely to dominate that conversation and far more important.

But soccer, as you like to call it, may well have surfaced in the general chit-chat. John himself told us last week that he hoped to get a few words with President Obama during his time as an invited guest in the big house.

So hopefully he will have asked your top man for some help this coming Friday -- in between organizing two possible games for the Irish team in New York and Boston this summer.

We need help, lots of it.  In fact Ireland and the Irish are going to need all the assistance and all the luck we can get ahead of the World Cup qualifier in Stockholm, the latest defining game of the Giovanni Trapattoni era.

Even Delaney would acknowledge that, I’m sure, if President Obama asks about the game that will make or break our hopes of getting to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup finals.

To get to Rio we have to get a result in Stockholm. That’s a fact.

To get a result in Stockholm we have to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet. And that, pun intended, is a very tall order.

The Swedish superstar, now David Beckham’s teammate at Paris St. Germain, is everything you need in a world class sportsman.

He has huge strength, a massive physique, speed to burn and he has that one talent that sets the truly great strikers apart – arrogance.

Off the field, Ibrahimovic is known as a bit of a difficult character and a man who tolerates little that is not of his own liking. On the field, he is a giant of modern day football and a truly great footballer.

We’ve never had a front player of his like. Robbie Keane -- and the regular reader of this page will know that I am his biggest fan -- is a striker who will always score goals for his country given half a chance, but he can’t dominate games or defenses like Ibrahimovic can.

That’s why the Swede has Barcelona as one of the clubs on his CV, along with Inter and AC Milan, Ajax and Juventus.

Unlike Robbie in his brief time with Inter, Zlatan made a big impression in Serie A, one that Trapattoni knows only too well from his own footballing history.

The pair of them have clashed before as well. Ibrahimovic scored against Trap’s Italy at the 2004 European Championships in Portugal and was part of the Swedish team whose “questionable” draw with Denmark in their final group game put the Italians out and still irks Trapattoni to this day.

Trap told the Irish media just last week that he has unfinished business with Ibrahimovic. In any other language that means he wants revenge against the Swede in Stockholm’s new and wonderfully named Friend’s Arena.

Whatever about Trap’s unfinished business with him, the great Ibrahimovic certainly has the ability to finish Trap’s time with Ireland this coming weekend.

Anything other than a positive result in Stockholm – and a draw would be a positive result – will leave Ireland’s World Cup hopes hanging by the threads.

A defeat will also get the media knives out for Trapattoni before Tuesday’s game with Austria, knives that have been sharpened ever since that pathetic 6-1 defeat at home to Germany last autumn.
John Delaney knows the storm will be fierce when he returns to Dublin from Sweden after his quick trip Stateside.

Like President Obama, the FAI chief knows what it is like to be in the eye of such a storm, but any tips he picked up in Washington this week will doubtless help if it all goes wrong for Trapattoni and Ireland in Scandinavia ahead of next Tuesday’s home fixture with Austria.

If it goes wrong Delaney and Robbie will be left to pick up the pieces for a squad full of young players who have never experienced anything like this before.

And, just to give them a taste of what’s to come, here’s a reminder of a very famous Sun headline when England lost to Sweden in the 1992 European Championships – Swedes 2, Turnips 1.

That headline could well feature again on Saturday morning. I kid you not.    

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views

When Brian O’Driscoll stamps on an opponent you know there is something seriously wrong with the state of Irish rugby. That happened in the defeat to Italy on Saturday when Dricco was sin-binned for only the second time in his professional career. He doesn’t deserve to end his international career on such a sour note, not even after 125 caps, but Declan Kidney doesn’t deserve to stay on after an inept season crowned by a first ever Six Nations defeat to Italy.

Cheltenham was a disaster for my bank account once again this year – mostly because I didn’t listen to the people who gave me winners and thought I knew better – but that counts for nothing next to the plight of top Irish amateur jockey JT McNamara who suffered severe neck injuries in a fall on the Thursday card.  If you read this please pray for him – he needs all the prayers he can get judging by the medical reports.

SOCCER: Spare a thought for Michael Appleton, who was sacked as Blackburn manager on Tuesday after just two months in charge of the struggling Championship side. Appleton was the fifth man to take charge of Rovers this season and the third to be sacked. Blackpool fans won’t be too upset however -- he left them after just a couple of months to take the Blackburn job!

GAA: The former Mayo footballer and Irish basketball star Liam McHale went to Croke Park on Sunday for his 10th All-Ireland final as a player or coach and finally won one as part of the coaching team that guided St. Brigid’s of Roscommon to success in the club football final. Nice story and a happy ending for McHale – at last.

GAA: Fingers crossed for that fine Cork footballer Colm O’Neill, who may well have picked a serious knee injury as his team defeated All-Ireland champions Donegal in the league on Saturday night. O’Neill has done his cruciate twice already so hopefully this time he escapes the need for further surgery.


THERE’S a great photo doing the round of the St. Brigid’s goalkeeper Shane Curran kissing teammate Frankie Dolan at the end of the All-Ireland club football final on Sunday. It’s a proper Roscommon kiss, tongues and all, and none of that continental nonsense. Dolan got the smacker after his last minute winning point for Brigid’s against Ballymun Kickhams, and the 42-year-old Curran gets the plaudits for being one of the great Irish sports stories of this or any other year.


HOPEFULLY this act of stupidity isn’t a sign of things to come in Stockholm on Friday night, but how the hell could Giovanni Trapattoni leave Kevin Doyle out of the Ireland squad altogether for the games against Sweden and Austria?  Jon Walters picked up an injury on Tuesday and Doyle may yet be called up as a late replacement, but even allowing for a drop in form at times this season, the Wolves striker should have been on the bench at least in Sweden.