Gio Prayed for Goals but Athlones Heroes So Nearly Ruined Him ; Lucky Devils: AC Milan (above) and Trapattoni (Left) Were Indebted to Italy No 1 Albertosi (Right) for Keeping Athlone at Bay

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Byline: PHILIP QUINN

First impressions: the Italians step off their bus and tread through themud at St Mels Park

GIOVANNI TRAPAT-TONIS brow may crease when pressed to recall his first visit toIreland as a coach b u t , deep i n t h e I r i s h midlands, the memory of ACMilans stopover in Athlone remains crystal clear.

For John Minnock, the imminent coronation of Trapattoni revives echoes of agrey afternoon, a heavy sod and a missed penaltyor rather, a saved onethat has ensured the Tullamore native cult status in the pantheon of League ofIreland legends.

Im better-known for missing that penalty than for all the ones I did get,chuckled Minno as he pressed the rewind button.

It was October, 1975. The Dubs and Kerry had just knocked seven bells out ofeach other at the start of the most ferocious rivalry in the history of the GAAbut, in Irelands heartbeat, there was only one gig in town. Italian giantsMilan were pitching tent by the banks of the Shannon for a UEFA Cup battle.

Trapattoni was in his first full season as coach of the Rossoneri and, while hehad carved out a distinguished playing careertwo Italian scudetti and two European Cups in the 1960sMilan were more famous for the players they brought to the garrison town thanfor the ambitious coach at the helm.

Following global TV coverage of the 1970 World Cup finals, where Italy hadreached the final, Irish sports fans were familiar with Milan luminaries suchas goalkeeper Enrico Ricky Albertosi and play-maker Gianni Rivera.

No wonder more than 9,000 fans crammed St Mels Park for a glimpse of theItalians, whose first sight of the compact ground had come an hour beforekick-off.

You werent allowed to train at the ground before matches in those days,recalled Paddy McCaul, Athlone Town stalwart and now FAI vice-president.

St Mels would have seemed a world apart from the San Siro, and that suited us.

Managed by Amby Fogarty, Athlone had only returned to senior football in theLeague of Ireland six years previously and had secured their first foray intoEuropean football by defeating Cork Hibernians in their final game of the 74-75season, thanks to a winning goal from the mercurial Minnock.

People remember Minno for the penalty incident in the second half against Milanbut the diehard Town supporters know that, without his goal against Hibs, wedhave never got a shot at Milan in the first place, pointed out McCaul.

A versatile player who was comfortable out wide or playing in a centralattacking role, Minnock was a cult hero for Athlone fans, for whom he lit upmany a Sunday afternoon in the 70s before moving on to Finn Harps and thenLimerick, where he suffered heartache in 1982 by being dropped for the FAI CupFinal.

Minno was Towns regular penalty taker and there was never any h e s i t a t i on w h e n A t h l o n e , deservedly keeping Milan at arms length, were awardeda penalty midway through the second half of the second-round, first-leg tie. …