England are back in Croke Park this weekend, and Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll has been doing his level best to declare it as just another game. "The fans may see it otherwise, but we see England as one of five teams are have to beat if we want to win the championship," O'Driscoll told me at the launch of the Six Nations some weeks back in London. He's right, of course. In order to win the championship, never mind a first ever Grand Slam for this golden generation, Ireland will have to beat England on Saturday just as they have beaten France and Italy so far this season. Outside of the Ireland camp, however, this is much more than just another game. The empty seats evident for the French game three weeks will be full this Saturday. The pubs around Croke Park will be jammed from lunchtime as the fans lick their lips and their pints in creamy expectation. Ireland against England is special, in any sport and at any level. We saw that two years ago when the English came to Croker for the first time in a game that was about so much more than international rugby. Much was made in the build-up to the 2007 encounter of Bloody Sunday and the fact that "God Save the Queen" would air at the home of the GAA. The family of Kerry legend Joe Barrett even demanded the return of their father's medals from the GAA museum at Croker in protest at the English anthem. It was all much ado about nothing, however. The English fans were the only ones making any noise as their anthem sounded around the great ground. Their team was afforded a warm welcome and was then well and truly thumped on the Croker pitch. Much will be made of that game in the build-up to this week's revival of one of the greatest rivalries in international sport, but Dricco's assertion that the hype will be nowhere near as extreme this time around seems to be an accurate one. The game won't make too many front pages before Saturday morning, but one facet of the occasion will be as strong now as it was two years ago. If Ireland wins the country will go rugby mad again, and the front pages will be hopping with pictures of O'Driscoll and company in celebratory mould. For what it's worth, the new look Ireland side are well capable of beating England if they play like they did in the opening weekend's win over France. If they play as they did in Italy then England could be a massive banana skin in the search for that elusive Grand Slam. Either way sport will be a winner once again in Croke Park on Saturday. The pity is that this will also be England's final visit to the home of the GAA with the new Lansdowne set to be up and running by 2011.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore