Saturday 3 December 2016

George Hook: Soccer is the game of the people in Ireland, not rugby

Published 11/10/2015 | 13:54

Shane Long and Paul O'Connell
Shane Long and Paul O'Connell

Rugby fanatic and pundit George Hook has admitted that soccer is still the game of the people in Ireland.

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With two mouth-watering fixtures today that will define the immediate future of both soccer and rugby in this country, Hook admits that his favoured sport - the oval ball game - is still very much a sport and doesn't quite capture the emotions and fanbase of all strands of Irish society.

Joe Schmidt's men take on France at 4.45 in Cardiff where a win will mean that Ireland will avoid facing New Zealand in the quarter final of the World Cup.

Over in Warsaw at 7.45, Martin O'Neill's Boys In Green can guarantee themselves automatic qualification for the European Championships in France next year with a high scoring draw (2-2 or above) or a win against the Poles.

It's Ireland's biggest sporting day in modern times and Hook feels both matches are more significant than the other in different ways

"Football is the game of the people," Hook told Independent.ie.

"No matter how much we think about it, more rugby is played on the southside of Dublin than is played on the northside of Dublin.

"Rugby is still primarily the sport of choice of fee paying schools. No matter how hard we try we rugby people can't actually say this is the game of the people. The game of the people is soccer so therefore it is a bigger deal in that sense.

"But because the rugby World Cup is easier to win than the soccer World Cup because less teams enter, there are only four teams who can actually win it (rugby World Cup), we have a better chance of going further so in that sense the French match has more to offer."

Although known for his in-depth knowledge and love of rugby, Hook admits he has been a keen follower of the Irish soccer team for years.

"I was in Dalymount Park on a number of great days. Johnny Giles on his debut against Sweden who had just been beaten in a World Cup final in the 1950s.

"Johnny scores and Ireland win 3-2. And there on a heart-breaker when we were knocked out of the qualification in injury time. The great Charlie Hurley, Noel Cantwell, Joe Haverty - historical names in Irish soccer. Those were days when our team were first-team players.

"The interesting thing about this team going to Poland is I think five of them are playing in the Championship which is, in affect, the second string of Premiership teams. It's not all that different in a way from the 1950s, the only difference is they don't have to come across by boat the night before.

"How will we do against Poland? Again logic, we are away. There is a smell of one nothing about it, that Poland will grab a goal. To win would be extraordinary."

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