With Ireland qualifying for Euro 2012, it’s time for the players’ wives and girlfriends to start fighting for column inches. But, says Catherine Murphy, if you’re expecting a display of shopping sprees and wild parties with the paparazzi in tow, you might be in for a surprise.
They may be low profile now but we' ll certainly know a lot more about the Irish WAGs at Euro 2012 next June. All eyes today are on the European Championship draw but that spotlight will soon shift to the players – and their partners.
Chief among the WAGs of Ireland, and a name familiar to most, is Claudine Palmer, the 28-year-old wife of LA Galaxy player and former Tottenham Hotspurs star Robbie Keane.
The model and mother of twoyear- old Robert Jnr is viewed as the ultimate WAG, her tiny figure always framed by blingy designer garb, blonde tresses and permatan.
When she married Robbie in 2008, it was glamour all the way, with a Ritz-Carlton reception, an Elie Saab wedding dress, ¤80,000 engagement ring and Phantom Rolls-Royces bringing family members to the church.
Still on the books of Assets Models in Dublin, she's photographed around town every time she comes to Dublin and enjoys the city's finer things — shopping in Harvey Nichols, eating out in Shanahan's on the Green — but is currently settling into life with the two Robbies in LA.
While she had already embarked on a fledgling modelling career when she met Robbie (at the age of 19), the Malahide girl became infinitely better known once she started dating him.
“You look at Claudine and you see the big hair and petite model frame,” says Joanne, who also acts as Claudine’s agent. “However, you judge Claudine based on her looks at your peril. You don't get a firstclass degree in economics and maths by being stupid. “Claudine is extremely savvy. She knows her value, Robbie's value and their combined value as a couple.”
Claudine has already said that Euro 2012 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and since she's report reportedly hoping to build a TV career for herself in LA, it's guaranteed that she will go all out to impress in the style stakes next June.
“Claudine has to stay high- profile,” says one source. “Let's face it, within the coming years, she's probably going to end up earning more money than Robbie as his football career comes to a close.”
Robbie had been training alongside David Beckham at LA Galaxy prior to David’s departure from the pitch, and while they had reportedly built up a rapport on the pitch, Claudine is said to be lining up to take part in a fashion show — the essential charity event in every WAG's diary — being organised by queen of the WAGs, Victoria Beckham.
Having had a few months to settle into LA life, Claudine has been spearheading their search for a new home there and, true to WAG form, she has aimed high.
The pair have viewed a ¤4.5m mansion on Mulholland Drive in LA, complete with six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, private pool and Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton as neighbours.
Robbie Jnr has just enrolled at a pre-school in West Hollywood that's attended by the children of other sporting and entertainment stars.
You could say it doesn't get more WAG than that but, in some ways, Claudine has moved beyond WAG status with her move to LA.
Her plan to attend Euro 2012 inevitably means that she will be joined by her mum, Joan, who goes virtually everywhere with her.
Joan was photographed arriving at the post-Estonia game celebration party at Krystle nightclub in Dublin wearing skinny waxed jeans, killer heels and a biker jacket, and is often criticised for dressing very similarly to Claudine and attending almost as many events as her daughter.
She even travelled to LA to help Claudine, Robbie and their son settle in and still travels over and back on a regular basis.
Claudine’s brother Ronan, who has just graduated from DCU with a degree in accountancy, is also a regular fixture on their social scene.
“Joan will definitely go out to Poland for Euro 2012 and she will pull out all the style stops,” says one friend.
“Joan was always about style and fashion and Claudine didn't lick it off the stones — even when she was 14, she was all about her clothes.”
While Claudine and Robbie make a forceful career couple, other footballers' wives display a savvy that the WAG label doesn't imply.
When Richard Dunne made the move from Manchester City to Aston Villa in 2009, his wife Helen reportedly negotiated a £2m farewell payment for him, with the help of sports lawyer Chris Farnell.
She reportedly looked for an initial payment of £6m, proving that WAG DNA is not devoid of substance.
Next on the WAGs list is Jane Cunningham, the Scottish wife of goalie Shay Given. Ultra-stylish and pretty, the former primary-school teacher has two young children.
She epitomises the WAG who no longer needs to work and gets deeply involved in charity fundraising for good causes.
The couple met in 1999, got engaged seven months later, and were married in England in 2001, complete with Papal blessing from former amateur footballer Pope John Paul 2.
Jane dresses to kill, with a style that Victoria Beckham would give an approving nod to, although she displayed a somewhat WAG style tendency at Robbie and Claudine 2008 wedding, with a very colourful, glamorous summer dress.
“Again,” says Joanne, who knows the Scotswoman well, “Jane is wrongly judged because of her looks. She's tall, blonde and beautiful, and suffers the WAG label as a result.
“She often says, ‘I'm a mum of two who used to be a primaryschool teacher and just happens to be married to a footballer’.”
In fact, Jane modelled part-time to get through college, earned a first-class honours degree in education at Glasgow University and gave up modelling when she became a primary-school teacher, following in the footsteps of her mother Frances.
“One paper recently wrote that Jane often flies into Dublin at the weekends and goes to Krystle nightclub,” Joanne continues.
“That upset her because it's not what she does. Jane got very involved in fundraising for charities; she and Shay have raised millions of pounds through their charity Fashion Kicks, moving it from Newcastle to Manchester when Shay was transferred. Her vision has raised millions.”
Shay’s mother died from cancer when he was five and the couple's events often raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
The couple, who are described as “ridiculously private”, are good friends with Westlife, while Jane is a pal of Annette Rocca, whom she previously helped organise the Water Angels charity event in Marbella.
Another WAG who doesn't mind taking to the catwalk to fundraise is Llewella Brimble, partner of Wolves player Kevin Foley and mother of their young daughter. She sauntered down the catwalk wearing D&G, Burberry and Gucci last year to help other club WAGs raise money for charity.
By virtue of the fact that her hubby once played for Manchester United, Yvonne Manning is another Irish woman who earns the title of true WAG. The former ‘red-devilled wag' and John O'Shea married at Carton House in June 2010 and now have a baby, Alfie.
Yvonne’s WAG credentials come from the fact that she socialised with Coleen Rooney during John’s Man United days. She reportedly caught the bouquet at Rooney's lavish wedding and, in turn, Coleen attended their nuptials.
Petite and brunette, Yvonne looks tiny next to John’s tall frame and displays a more waspish style — à la Kristin Davis in ‘Sex and the City’.
Like many of his Republic of Ireland team mates, John married a girl that he had known for years, rather than someone he met on the celebrity circuit. They're described as a low-key, charming, private couple, although they enjoyed socialising during John’s time at Man United.
Playing for English clubs, many of the Ireland team members have met and married, or live with, English and Scottish girls. Among them is Reading's Shane Long who has a child with Kayleah Adams.
Darren O'Dea married gorgeous Scots girl Melissa Cheung, while former Celtic player Aiden McGeady recently had a baby with his long-term Scottish girlfriend Claire Healey.
Claire is the epitome of the WAG who puts her own career on hold — she's a qualified pharmacist — and leaves family and friends behind to be with her partner when he's transferred to a new club.
When Aiden secured a £40,000- a-week place with Russian team Spartak in 2009, Claire upped and moved with him.
No surprise there, the WAG critics would say. Claire admitted to finding the move difficult, since she didn't speak a word of Russian and couldn't get a job.
The difficulties of the move may have been made up for with a sumptuous penthouse apartment in a leafy enclave near Moscow's nightlife.
But it's a far cry from St Ninian's high school in Giffnock, Glasgow, where the couple originally met and their family and friends.
Darren has also spoken about the difficulties of the WAG's life. He said wife Melissa, a qualified physiotherapist, was pregnant when he first went to Ipswich and found the move tough. Being a WAG is not all Baden- Baden.
Of course, for all the true WAGs there are the anti-WAGs — the women who detest the label and try to distance themselves from it. They're their own women, maintain their own careers and are more likely to quietly watch an Ireland game with friends and family than be seen clubbing with other WAGS.
“In fairness to the Irish wives and girlfriends,” says one FAI stalwart, “they're a normal, easy-going, nice group of women who all get on fairly well.
“Quite a few of the Irish team married girls that they'd been going out with for years — Stephen Kelly, Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane. It's a different culture to the UK.”
The FAI source also points out that many of the Irish squad now have young babies or toddlers — including Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady, John O'Shea — which they say will give Euro 2012 “more of a family feel”.
“At the top end of the game, which is occupied by high earners, there's a lot more snobbery involved — the WAGs feel they should be seen at matches, wearing the latest designer gear, of course,” they continue.
“Most of the squad members aren't living that enormously wealthy lifestyle and, to be honest, you don't see the wives and girlfriends at matches that often.
Chief among the anti-WAGs is Jenny Harney, who married Kevin Doyle in June 2010, on the same day that Mexico faced South Africa in the opening game of the World Cup.
An industrial engineer, she has known Kevin since she was 16 — they met at the National Ploughing Championships — and has said she hates the WAG label.
Both Kevin and Jenny come from Co Wexford and are now based in the UK, where Jenny works full-time.
“Jenny is a quiet, shy girl,” says one friend. “She's likes her fashion, but she doesn't have that WAG style. She tries to catch the Ireland games but she'd prefer to quietly watch the games with members of her own family.”
The couple married at Adare Manor in Limerick and, while they're described as a solid, downto- earth couple whose heads aren't easily turned, they reportedly got planning permission for a 9,000sq ft home in Wexford, which to some minds, gives more than a passing nod to the WAG sensibility.
Another brunette who prefers to keep a low profile is Joanne Doyle, wife of Stephen Hunt. She was introduced to Hunt by her first cousin Kevin Doyle, who played with Stephen at Reading.
The couple subsequently married with a reception at Kilshane House in Bansha, Co Tipperary.
And while Claudine Palmer bucks the WAG trend with her firstclass degree in economics, another wife who defies the theory that WAGs are perfectly vacant is Stephen Kelly's long-term partner Helga Simmonson.
Hailing from Griffith Avenue in Dublin, Helga has blonde good looks and a stunning figure to match Claudine’s. She graduated in Ireland with a degree in Economics and English before achieving a first-class MSc in International Business.
A talented basketball player too, she now lectures in business studies in the UK, where she enjoys the quiet life with Stephen. The couple were childhood sweethearts and married in 2009 here in Ireland.
Unusually, Stephen studied for A-levels while embarking on his football career in the UK and the couple are said to prefer quiet m i d - w e e k meals out together than wild nights on the tiles.
Helga — along with her own family and Stephen’s family — will be in Poland and Ukraine next summer, subject to Stephen making the Irish squad that will head to the tournament.
“I have become a huge football fan over the years and have enjoyed supporting Stephen and club and international level,” she says. “But I think that next summer is going to be extra special for the country, the players and their families.”
Helga, says one source, is a “very together, capable young woman who has her own career and wouldn't suffer fools gladly”.
Little is written about the partners of Glenn Whelan or Stephen Ward. Likewise Damien Duff's wife Elaine, who gave birth to their son Woody earlier this year.
A Bray native, Elaine knew Damien as a friend for years before going out with him. She is happy to be snapped out with her hubby in London displaying none of the trappings or props of the archetypal WAG and seems to have her two feet firmly on the ground.
“She matches Damien well in that regard” says one football source. “Damien is a real family man. His parents go to all his matches, there's no interest in building a profile other than as a player who loves playing for Ireland”.
One well-known WAG who more than likely won't get to strut her stuff at Euro 2012 is Jessica Lawlor, the 25-year-old, Bentley-driving partner of Stephen Ireland.
Stephen famously turned down Giovanni’s offer to return to the squad, denying his glamorous partner the opportunity to seize the spotlight in Europe next summer. And what would the country’s most famous footballer make of the advent of the Irish WAG?
Roy Keane previously criticised footballer players for being wealthobsessed and not wanting to play for clubs like Sunderland.
The players were, he said, being dictated to by wives who wanted to stay in London for its shopping opportunities!