United's visit more than a friendly for local talent
WHILE the FAI's desperation to sell tickets for tomorrow's Aviva Stadium opener between an Airtricity League XI and Manchester United may sit uncomfortably, there's no doubting that the game will be a huge occasion for the domestic-based players who are involved.
Damien Richardson's squad gathered in Malahide yesterday to begin their preparations, with the composition of his 18-man selection providing plenty of debate in dressing-rooms around the country in the build-up to their showdown with Alex Ferguson's team.
Certainly, the news that Wayne Rooney will make his first appearance since the World Cup finals has put a pep in the step of the Irish players who will provide opposition. It's a boost for the organisers as well, for they need that sort of star quality to put bums on seats.
The FAI say that ticket sales are "going well", with no specifics provided; various sources suggest that they have sold somewhere in the region of 30,000 tickets thus far for the 51,000-capacity venue.
They've been criticised for their pricing structure, with the cheapest ticket coming in at €45 and the most expensive at €100 for a premium seat -- serious money for a friendly in recessionary times.
The FAI have been trying to push the game at every opportunity, with broadcast outlets offered audio interviews with Paul McGrath and specially recorded clips from Ferguson, John O'Shea and even Pat Crerand.
Bizarrely, it was also announced that tickets were available during a break in play in last Thursday's Europa League meeting between Shamrock Rovers and Juventus, a development which was met with a smattering of boos.
The crassness won't bother the members of Richardson's panel, though, especially the likes of Bohemians striker Paddy Madden, who harbours ambitions of moving to England on a full-time basis. This is a shop-window opportunity.
The Dubliner has attracted interest from the UK in recent weeks, and this encounter is a pick-me-up after suffering Champions League humiliation with Bohemians in Wales.
Originally, the plan was that he would be in Belgium tonight, in anticipation of a meeting with Anderlecht and therefore unavailable, like the Shamrock Rovers players who are on competitive duty in Italy.
As a sometime Manchester United fan -- "not a real one" in his words because he's never been to Old Trafford -- the chance to participate in this fixture offers some form of consolation.
"Going out to TNS was sad, but we've bounced back now," he said. "To get called into this squad is an extra little bonus.
"Hopefully one day, I'll get to play against them (teams like Manchester United) regularly," continued the 20-year-old, who is keen to try his luck against Nemanja Vidic in particular.
"It's going to be a nice little test for me, to play against two of the best centre-halves in the world. Hopefully the first of many."
Bohemians manager Pat Fenlon has been on the phone to wish Madden the best of luck and tell him to make the most of the experience.
The Bohs supremo also rang the other five Gypsies representatives to offer similar encouragement, although in the back of his mind he'll be keen for them to return in one piece ahead of their title showdown with Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on Sunday.
Sligo Rovers defender Gavin Peers is likely to come into close contact with Rooney, and views the game in positive terms as a chance to prove to the floating public that the League of Ireland houses some competent performers.
"This game is good for getting the league out there, and hopefully it will push on and get bigger," he said.
"None of that going back to part-time. Full-time is the way forward and this game can help give it a lift-off. We're playing against supposedly the best team in the world and it's chance to show how good we can be."
Shelbourne secured their first piece of silverware since 2006 by beating Bray in the final of the Leinster Senior Cup at the Carlisle Grounds yesterday.
Dinny Corcoran fired the Reds ahead on 41 minutes and then Ray Scully set up David Cassidy for the second 16 minutes later.
Cassidy turned provider for Marc Hughes after 73 minutes and the Bray defence was undone again eight minutes from time when Mark Leech looped home a header from David McGill's centre.
Bray Wanderers -- Kane; S O'Connor, Webster, Tresson (Houston 67), Massey; Doyle, D O'Connor (Brennan 63), Shields, Kelly (Zambra 77); O'Neill, Mulroy.
Shelbourne -- Delany; Scully, Ryan, Whelan, Byrne; Cassidy (O'Brien 84) Shiels, McGill, Hughes (Pinto 86); Corcoran (Leech 72), Farrell.
Ref -- D Hanney (Dublin).