Green for go
Derby's midfield star keeping his feet on ground as meteoric rise continues
Published 01/09/2010 | 05:00
AND so it comes to pass that Ireland enter a trip into the unknown relying on someone who didn't think that he was worth knowing a year ago.
It's a quirky tale alright, Paul Green knows that much. Anoraks of a particular persuasion can chart the progress of any Irish-qualified individuals on the various rungs of the UK football ladder. But they missed the man with the cliche-inducing surname, and a distinctly Irish complexion.
His grandfather, Patrick Cottingham, was naturally aware that the option was there. So too his uncle Jed, and the diaspora on his mother's side of the family who hailed from Westport and ended up in Pontefract, west Yorkshire, a part of the world better known for its racecourse.
"My family always pushed me," reflects the 27-year-old, who will board the plane for Armenia later today scarcely believing his luck, with his rapid elevation and an injury to Keith Andrews making a starting berth for the opening Euro 2012 qualifier a real possibility.
"And my grandad always pushed me to put my name forward. But, being down in the lower leagues, I thought they'd never look at me. The higher I got, with a season in the Championship under my belt, I thought I'd put my name forward and see what came of it."
Let's rewind a little and catch up with the journey to English football's second tier. Green took his baby steps into the professional game with Doncaster -- then a non-league club -- as a teenager back in 2002.
He was a factor in their meteoric rise through the Conference play-offs to League Two glory and, in 2008, the jump from League One by virtue of a Wembley victory over Leeds. Indeed, he was the only survivor from their existence outside the football league.
Paul Jewell, who had a chat with Johnny Giles in the bizarre managerial hunt that produced the appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni, was in situ at Derby then and capitalised on Green's contract expiration to make an attractive offer. Doncaster offered a big deal and a testimonial; as a club, however, the Rams were on a different plain.
His then-manager Sean O'Driscoll was understanding of the decision when it was discussed less than a year later, on Green's return to Donny soil. "He had an offer from a definite Championship club at a time when we didn't know where we were going to be. And we couldn't match what a big club like Derby could offer him," O'Driscoll said.
Sure enough, there were no hard feelings from his old followers, who chanted his name and afforded warm applause when others would get a pig's head. That popularity has followed through to Derby where two years of energetic displays have endeared him to the masses. A column with the local newspaper added to the profile in that sphere. His attitude is a crowd pleaser.
The international breakthrough is a whole new ball game, though. When he finally decided he was ready to be at least watched, Derby were given the order to write to the FAI last December and make them aware of his eligibility.
With that came monitoring, a positive impression and a call-up to May's training camp ahead of the friendlies with Algeria and Paraguay. "My expectations were to come and enjoy it, and if everything did go well to just be around the squad," he says. It went slightly better than that. Although he plays in a more advanced role with Derby, Green fitted into Trapattoni's preferred system from the get-go, proving he possessed the attributes to slot into the holding role in front of the back four.
He was given his chance there in the two training games at Malahide before an appearance as a sub against Paraguay was followed by a full start in Algeria. The latter occasion went extremely well with a courageous display summarised by a brave stoop to provide the opening goal. It meant that, one summer later, he was lining up at the Aviva Stadium against an Argentina side packed with some of the world's greatest stars. Back at base, Nigel Clough was unhappy that Green, who was carrying a thigh complaint, was left on the pitch for the duration of the 90 minutes.
The player kept his counsel but, considering where he'd come from, you can't imagine he was too displeased with such a resounding vote of confidence from Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli.
"This time last year I was injured," he says. "I had to wait to get back playing so they could actually come and watch me play. So I've never looked back really. It's all happened so fast."
What next? Sunderland and Celtic expressed an interest in May, with Derby quick to put up the 'Not for Sale' signs. Trapattoni believes that his elevation of Glenn Whelan has improved his stock at club level, and it's possible that it could do the same for Green; the taste of elevated company has whetted his appetite for more.
There are no confidence issues now. Walking into an Irish dressing-room with a number of Premier League players didn't unduly bother Green. He knew the likes of Whelan and Andrews from jousts in the lower leagues, while the marquee names were straight over to shake his hand.
"They made me feel really welcome," he says. "I think that's the main thing, really, being comfortable. If not, you're going to be a bag of nerves, and it's only going to affect you."
Any nerves at all? Well, there was this one time ...
"I had to sing a song in front of the squad," he smiles. The tune in question? "The Wild Rover," he chuckles.
Paul who? No never, no more.