Football: HOME FROM HOME; HISTORY MAKERS Robbie Keane Will Lead Stan's Men out to Break Last Croker Taboo Soccer Superstars Not Overwhelmed by Croke Park Factor

The Mirror (London, England), March 24, 2007 | Go to article overview

Football: HOME FROM HOME; HISTORY MAKERS Robbie Keane Will Lead Stan's Men out to Break Last Croker Taboo Soccer Superstars Not Overwhelmed by Croke Park Factor


Byline: Garry Doyle CHIEF SOCCER WRITER

IT was billed as a week when history would be made - instead it has witnessed the puncturing of a myth.

Soccer entered Croke Park but did anyone really care? Judging by the news bulletins, few did, considering the Irish cricket team and the tragic death of the Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer featured as prominently in the headlines.

So finally, at long, long last, Ireland, as a nation, was able to put things in perspective and treat one man's life with a lot more respect than the opening of a stadium to a 'foreign sport'.

Today, after years of debate followed by months of tedious hype, the talking will stop and the games - albeit that damned, garrison game - will begin.

The truth is, though, that it is no longer seen as a big deal. The hoopla surrounding the two Six-Nations rugby internationals has done soccer a favour.

Now, save for the odd soundbite, players, officials, supporters, managers are talking about the significance of a match rather than an occasion.

Of course, the irony is lost on no one that this soccer team has a deeper connection with Croke Park than the rugby folk - yet, by the same token, they have also been far calmer about the entire event.

"The thing is," said Shay Given, "that most of us have already been there in some capacity as a supporter.

"Now, don't get me wrong, it is a tremendous stadium and we're honoured to be playing in it and are grateful to the GAA for allowing us to do so.

"But really we have to focus on the game - or else we can get distracted and lose our way."

Asked if it would be a disadvantage to have trained on the pitch only three times prior to today's game - Given politely pointed out that this was more of a taste than he usually gets.

"When you play so many games away in Europe, you tend to travel the day before the game and see the stadium for the first time the night before.

"We're used to playing in big stadiums all over Europe and while Saturday will be special, we have to get the Croke Park factor out of our minds."

If anything, it already is out of their heads.

Compare their build-up to the Ireland-England rugby game, when so much was written about the singing of the anthems that you could have sworn you'd be tuning into the final of X-Factor.

This time it is different. This time you have a group of players who are used to bigger and better stadiums than Croker.

This time you don't have a bunch of players who float between one dilapidated ground to another - from Thomand Park to Donnybrook to Ravenhill before making the jump to Croke Park.

Instead you have guys whose only experience of a dump is their annual trip to Fratton Park. Otherwise, it's Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, St James' Park.

Or, if your name is Aiden McGeady, then you have just come back from the San Siro. So what's all this fuss about Croke Park?

McGeady said: "It's a great stadium and I can't wait to play in it. I watched the rugby guys who had tears in their eyes. I don't know if we'll be like that."

But while McGeady's cold, clinical tones may suggest a shrug of the shoulders level of indifference, the opposite is true.

Lessons clearly have been learned from how the rugby team got distracted from their job. These players have prioritised the day's importance. Take the points first and soak in the atmosphere later.

Of course, had this change arrived earlier in our lives then it would be different. Hugely different.

For prior to this generation of Irish soccer players lies a few heroes from yesteryear whose relationship with Croke Park and the GAA differs greatly.

Kevin Moran is one.

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