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Jun 10, 2013

No American dream for Ireland

Something is seriously wrong with the modern game when a manager is pleading with players to make themselves available to take on the reigning World and European champions. But then again, end-of-season tours do make a mockery of the professional era.

On Tuesday evening, thousands of Irish-Americans will flock to Yankee Stadium in New York, paying for their t-shirts, food, drinks and tickets, only to see a second-string Republic of Ireland side taking on Spain - who also have other things on their minds, with the Confederations Cup on the horizon.

It would be wrong to praise the 19 players who did travel to the United States as part of Giovanni Trapattoni's patched-up squad because it should always be an honour to represent one's country.

Yet sympathy also has to be shown, considering that this fixture is the last of four international games at the end of a long, gruelling club season for the majority of the Irish players.

With a reported €50 million debt to clear, the Irish FA (FAI) clearly needs marquee friendlies like this one to boost its coffers. And sometimes, international football has to bring in the money to fund other projects.

But the timing is all wrong and it feels like another botched US trip waiting to unravel. Just like the Griswolds, when a trip looks like a bad idea from the outset, it's probably best not to go on it.

Last weekend, when the FAI press release came in, listing all of the players ducking out of the trip, it smacked of teenagers bunking off a school trip, using a range of excuses to cover up the fact that they want their summer break.

Immediately, it brought to mind the last time Ireland visited the US in 2007 and senior caps were handed out like coupons to visit the Empire State Building.

By the time the two-game tour against Ecuador and Bolivia ended, nobody wanted to look at each other. The manager, Steve Staunton, had disappeared to return to a coaching course, 12 players had just earned their first caps but were unsure where they fitted in, while the senior members of the squad kept quiet because it was better to say nothing when the organisation was such a shambles.

What that trip is most gallingly remembered for is one player: Joseph Lapira. Still in college at the time, the American youngster was drafted in to train with the Irish squad due to having a Dublin-born mother, but everyone - on the inside and back home in Ireland - was left aghast when Staunton decided to hand him a senior cap in the 1-1 draw with Ecuador.

At the time, Staunton thought he was beating the rest of the world to discovering a teenage prodigy. But, just like Kerlon, Diego Sinagra and Freddy Adu, the hype dissipated after the tour when Lapira tried to force his way into the senior game and became another case of a talented kid stuck in some kind of Neverland, where he couldn't grow up to become the footballer everyone had expected.

Now mentioned more in pub quiz questions in Ireland than serious debates over whether he deserved to be capped or not, Lapira is, like most of the other 11 debutants from that 2007 trip, nowhere near Trapattoni's current set-up. And one has to wonder what benefit, other than financial, this game with Spain will have for the Irish team.

Although there is one difference - at least, we hope there is - between this tour and past trips to the US for Irish teams, and that is that the organisation is of a far higher standard this time around.

It's not like the trip in 1992 when stories emerged of senior internationals being involved in pub lock-ins as though they were celebrating winning the World Cup. Or like in 1996, when more of the same was reported to have happened.

Those trips in the 90s were sandwiched between a relatively successful World Cup campaign in 1994, when Ireland stunned Italy with a 1-0 win at Giants Stadium.

But the glory of that tournament was nowhere to be seen on their summer trips back to the US. In fact, stories of memorable games and lively atmospheres were replaced by rumours of bust-ups between players and management.

None of that nonsense is likely to happen on Trapattoni's watch, especially with the players so eager to get in and out as quickly as possible. But don't be surprised if this US trip follows a similar pattern and is looked back on as yet another adventure to forget.

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