Flannery and O'Connor's rub of green giving Gunners extra steel for Premier League title charge
Former Irish rugby hard men Jerry Flannery and Johnny O'Connor have swapped the oval ball for the round ball as they continue to steel Arsenal's unlikely title charge this Christmas.
There was a time when there used to be a strong Irish presence on the pitch -- Frank Stapleton, David O'Leary, Pat Rice, Pat Jennings and Liam Brady were all playing heroes of the 1970s and '80s.
In the 21st century, though, it is behind the scenes at the famous Gunners where the Irish are making their mark -- with former internationals and Heineken Cup winners Flannery and O'Connor playing key roles in the club's strength and conditioning department.
The pair (pictured above) are interviewed in the latest edition of the Arsenal Magazine, which is published today.
The north London club's Irish connections also include doctor Gary O'Driscoll, a cousin of Irish star Brian, who is a member of the Gunners' medical team, and physio Declan Lynch, who played rugby for Shannon and worked with the Ireland U-20s and London Irish.
Former U-21 international Kwame Ampadu, who started his career with Arsenal after joining them from Belvedere, is now back at the club coaching the youths team, while Gerry Peyton is their goalkeeping coach and Des Ryan -- previously employed by the IRFU and Connacht -- is head of sports medicine and athletic development at the Arsenal Academy.
The Irish contingent has already had a key influence on Arsene Wenger's multi-national squad in developing their sporting interests.
Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski tweeted their support for All-Ireland champions Clare in September. And last week, they were joined by £50m man Mesut Ozil as all three donned Munster jerseys and paraded a banner 'Gwan Munster.' -- david kelly
* Photographs: Getty Images