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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 15 May 2021

'You grew up going to Croke Park watching Wexford play, or Waterford... or Kilkenny'

Ireland and Wales met at the GAA’s headquarters 10 years ago this week.

WHILE IRELAND AND WALES face off in a World Cup qualifier on Friday, this week also marks the 10-year anniversary of a significant past meeting between the nations.

On Saturday, 24 March, 2007, John Toshack’s side travelled to Dublin as part of the Euro 2008 campaign.

With Lansdowne Road under construction, however, the fixture was relocated to Croke Park for the first time. One month after the Jones’ Road gates were opened to rugby for Ireland’s historic Six Nations matches against France and England, football would make its debut at the home of the GAA.

John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs O'Shea alongside former Manchester United team-mate Ryan Giggs with (left) Lee Carsley and (right) goalscorer Stephen Ireland in the background. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

Having taken over from Brian Kerr a year previously, the reign of Ireland boss Steve Staunton appeared to be in serious danger after an abysmal 5-2 defeat to Cyprus in Nicosia and the embarrassingly 2-1 victory over San Marino thanks to Stephen Ireland’s injury-time winner.

At Croker, the talented Manchester City youngster started in a five-man midfield alongside Jonathan Douglas, Lee Carsley, Kevin Kilbane and Damien Duff, while a youthful Paul McShane was the most inexperienced player in a backline also featuring John O’Shea, Richard Dunne and Steve Finnan.

Shay Given was named between the sticks with Robbie Keane playing as the lone striker.

The Welsh, on three points after as many matches, were led by talismanic captain Ryan Giggs and the lively Craig Bellamy started up front. Elsewhere, 17-year-old Gareth Bale of Southampton lined out a left full-back.

IRELAND SOCCER EURO 2008 WALES Damien Duff tracks Gareth Bale. Source: AP/Press Association Images

In a dour affair played in front of 72,539 fans, Stephen Ireland — who would earn his sixth and international final cap later that year — once again proved the hero with the only goal of the game.

The midfielder latched onto Keane’s through-pass on 39 minutes and ghosted past Wales goalkeeper Danny Coyne before squeezing the ball home from an acute angle.

Source: sp1873/YouTube

The result would ease some of the pressure on Stan, but only temporarily as he was sacked after the 1-1 draw with Cyprus that October. A month later, caretaker boss Don Givens took over for the corresponding fixture with Wales in Cardiff, which ended in a 2-2 draw.

Ireland missed qualification and finished third in the group behind the Czech Republic and Germany, while Wales were two points back in fifth.

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John O’Shea and Kevin Doyle are among three players in the current squad (Aiden McGeady is the other) who featured for Ireland the day.

This afternoon, the pair were asked for their memories of the game…

O’Shea: We won anyway.

Doyle: Stephen Ireland scored a good goal. I remember being injured in the lead-up to it and I was desperate to get back fit as I wanted to play in that first game. I think I came on in the second half.

We won the game? There was a good, positive atmosphere — the first game in Croke Park and it all went off well. I’m sure we all, well I know I did… you grew up going to Croke Park watching Wexord play or Waterford… or Kilkenny.

Who did you (looks at O’Shea)? Whoever is doing well, John supports.

O’Shea: Sly dig! My dad’s a Kilkenny man so that’s how I grew up. When I was old enough myself, that’s when I was a Waterford man.

Doyle: I was proud to play at the time. My mother played there when she was young and it was nice to able to follow that.

O’Shea: Thankfully we won and it was a historical occasion too. I remember the victory for us but at the time too, the rugby, Ireland playing England, it was historic so to be part of that was very special.

Watch O’Shea and Doyle discuss it:


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About the author:

Ben Blake

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