Damien Duff  - launch of a charity Irish t-shirt
 Slowly but surely, it is starting to build. Day by day, the talk is intensifying, the speculation increasing and the expectation mounting.

A month from now and we won’t be able to talk about anything else.

Old players are being rolled out to plug everything from train tickets to flat screen televisions. Current players are coming into town at a rate of one a week to promote every commercial opportunity under the sun.

Even the manager is about to embark on a pilgrimage, up Croagh Patrick as it happens, perhaps to pray for some divine intervention in the coming weeks.

Yes folks, the European Championships are around the corner, and we can’t wait.

You know it is getting closer to the summer action on the international stage when they start to hand out the domestic trophies all across Europe.

Celtic have already been crowned champions of Scotland – not as big a boast as it used to be – and Manchester United are about to retain their English title.

The Premier League player of the year award has gone to Robin Van Persie, Reading have been promoted from the Championship and Wolves have been relegated.

Soccer is sorting out all its club squabbles and preparing to clear the decks for the return of tournament football at international level.

It is, of course, of major interest to us in Ireland. For the first time in a decade we can look forward to a tournament as participants. And, to be honest, we can’t wait.

Every little morsel of info regarding the Euros is being devoured by those of us of a football persuasion, and the rest of the country is catching up fast.

This past week alone, John O’Shea came to Dublin on behalf of Ford and told us that England will be home from the Euros before Ireland. Quite a boast.

Damien Duff, in our capital city to promote a charity t-shirt sale for a very deserving children’s charity, told us that he believes Ireland can go all the way to the final itself in Kiev.

On Monday, UEFA revealed what a ticket for the finals actually looks like.

And on Wednesday, Richard Dunne will be near St. Stephen’s Green in his home city to talk all things Euros with the Irish media.

His arrival this week is timely. On Monday, the Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish revealed that Dunne is back in training with his club.

Just a few months after breaking a collarbone, the Honey Monster is about to resume Premier League activity with relegation threatened Villa, possibly as early as this weekend’s derby game with West Brom.
His return to full fitness is timely for Villa and great news for Ireland, which explains why we will be hanging on his every word this Wednesday.

Ireland could be in the Euros longer than England, as O’Shea predicted last week, but only if the core of Trap’s team makes it to Poland in one piece.

We need Robbie Keane firing on all cylinders when he comes home from California to join the training camp at the end of May.

We need Shay Given to perform like Packie Bonner did at Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 if we are to frighten Croatia, Spain or Italy on Polish fields.

Duffer has to be on form now that he has the t-shirt to go with his years of experience as one of Ireland’s top players.

More than anything, though, we need a fully fit and a fully focused Richard Dunne available for all three group games in Poznan and Gdansk.

He is to this Irish team what Paul McGrath was to the side that beat Italy in Meadowlands all those years ago. He is irreplaceable.

Big Paul, responsible for the best individual performance I ever witnessed from an Irish team that day at the Giants Stadium, is now a regular on Twitter and well worth a follow, if that’s what you call.
On Monday night Paul, now a keen golfer by the way, took time out to tweet his delight at the news that Richard Dunne is available for Ireland and for Aston Villa again. He too believes a fit Dunne is pivotal to Irish hopes this summer.

If the news is good enough for Paul McGrath, then it is certainly good enough for you and for me.
Welcome back Dunney, now go conquer Europe for us.  

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Bizarre scenes in Italy – again – last weekend when Genoa fans turned on their team and demanded the shirts off their back, claiming they weren’t fit to wear them. One of the players duly collected all the jerseys bar one. The goalkeeper wouldn’t cooperate and “engaged” with the fans as they threatened to invade the pitch. The fact his grandfather may have “family” connections, as they say in those parts, probably helped his cause.

The unsavory incidents occurred, by the way, in the same ground where Ireland famously beat Romania on penalties at the 1990 World Cup. Plenty of Irish fans wanted the shirts off their players’ backs that night as well, but for entirely different reasons.

Sport is a cruel business, and no one knows that better at present than the Cork hurling goalkeeper and captain Donal Og Cusack. As we speak, he is laid up in a Dublin sports clinic after an operation on Monday to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Donal Og will be out of action for six months at least with the injury, picked up in Sunday’s fascinating NHL semifinal win over Cork, but those close to him say he will be back.

He deserves to be. Jimmy Barry Murphy is building an exciting new team in Cork and Cusack deserves to be part of it.

GAA: No sooner has Seamus McEnaney settled back into life as Meath manager than he has made a stunning move. Joe Sheridan will return home from Boston this weekend and resume his life as a Meath footballer. The move can only strengthen Banty’s hand so soon after surviving as Royals boss, and it will make his team all the better for the forthcoming championship. That’s what you call a double whammy.

HURLING: Davy Fitzgerald may think he’s clever, but having a go at referees, as he did after Sunday’s NHL semifinal defeat to Kilkenny, won’t hide the facts. Firstly, he is not that great a manager. And secondly, his team was never good enough to worry Kilkenny in the league semi. Silly man. And that’s not the first team he has forced people to say that about him.

HURLING: Pity the poor Wicklow hurlers who celebrated promotion to Division 2A of the National League after their win over Down on Sunday then discovered that their dressing room in Trim had been robbed and their valuables taken. Louth fans know what it is like to be robbed by Meath, but not in that manner!

RUGBY: It’s a big weekend for Irish rugby with Leinster and Ulster involved in the Heineken Cup semifinals. For what it’s worth, I’m putting money on Ulster to beat Edinburgh but Leinster to lose to Clermont-Auvergne in France.

SOCCER: Rangers have been banned from signing players for a year and have put Kyle Lafferty on the transfer list after a row with manager Ally McCoist. Just the normal sort of build-up to an Old Firm game so.

SOCCER: The Premier League title will probably be decided when United meet City in the Manchester derby on Monday night. United will win both by the way – the game and the championship.


GARDA (police officer if you don’t know) Adam Nolan secured an Olympic spot in the European boxing qualifiers in Turkey last weekend and celebrated in style on his return to Dublin on Sunday. A member of Bray boxing club, Adam is a teammate there of the one and only Katie Taylor, who will look to make it a double celebration when she goes to the qualifiers in China next month. Adam has already shown her the way.


THOSE who own and run Wolves got their just rewards for sacking Mick McCarthy when their team was relegated from the Premier Division last weekend. It is easy to say that Mick left them in a mess but his successor, his assistant Terry Connor, didn’t win a game as they went into freefall after the sacking.