St Ledger calls on Irish fans to invoke Croker spirit
SEAN ST LEDGER got a taste of a big game atmosphere in Dublin recently when he was present at Croke Park for the All-Ireland football final -- and all thanks to controversial GAA referee Martin Sludden.
With a summer move to Leicester leading only to frustration, the Birmingham-born defender needed a break last month and secured tickets for the Dublin-Kerry showdown through Sludden.
Yes, that Martin Sludden -- the referee who was chased off the Croke Park turf last year by angry Louth fans who were outraged at his decision to allow an illegal late goal by Meath's Joe Sheridan in the Leinster final.
Sludden is a distant cousin on his mother's side of the family. St Ledger was enthralled by the Croker experience and the defender would like that buzz to be recreated in the Aviva Stadium this evening.
"It was different," he smiles. "And it took me a while to get what was going on. It was an unbelievable atmosphere, and for something that's non-professional... it was amazing, the last 10 minutes, the way that Dublin won.
"To see the amount of people there, and the passion, was absolutely magnificent. And it was so enjoyable."
Some of that excitement this evening would be most welcome. Overall, the international football days at the renovated Lansdowne Road have been joyless occasions. With a play-off place at stake, this needs to be different.
"I know it's very cliched to say they can act like a 12th man, but it does actually feel like that. They can play a major part. If you are drawing and feel the crowd behind you, it does give a lift. They can be a real driving force."
St Ledger could do with a boost in morale. He hasn't even made the bench for Leicester's last three games and he is thinking about looking for a loan move if his situation doesn't change.
When he packed his bags leaving Preston this summer, immediate exclusion was the last thing he expected. Giovanni Trapattoni recommended him to his friend Sven Goran Eriksson, and the bizarre thing is that St Ledger genuinely appears to bear no grudges towards his club boss.
"It's hard to be angry with him because he's such a nice person. He's said sorry to me about not being on the bench and being in the stands. Yes, it's hard when you're not playing and it's a nightmare. You get frustrated, but he's so genuine and such a nice man."
A chat is planned when St Ledger returns to his club later this week. If there's a play-off on the horizon, the player is worried about losing sharpness and possibly even his starting place to Darren O'Dea, who is lining out regularly for Leeds.
November is one thing but the 26-year-old believes that if Ireland do somehow make it to Poland & Ukraine and his season continues in this fashion, then there's every chance he could miss out on the action. "That would be soul destroying," he admits.
So, despite the 'draining' travel arrangements, St Ledger was delighted to get a run-out against Andorra. Tonight will provide a far more searching examination.