Green's GUNNING TO MAKE HIS FINAL STEP UP Derby Derby midfielder brushes aside 'Plastic Paddy' tag as he targets competitive debut in Yerevan

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A GAME AT home to Northwich Victoria, in the Vauxhall Conference, in front of 1,400 bemused spectators. Hardly the starting point for a great career as a professional footballer.

But for Derby County player Paul Green, who is almost certain to start for Ireland in midfield against Armenia here in Yerevan tomorrow evening, it was a case of baby steps from that first bout as a professional footballer to his current status as a player in the starting XI for Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni in a European Championship qualifier.

We are not a Holland or a Germany or an Italy. We don't have 40 top- drawer players to pick from -- that's clear from hard cold stats like the fact that just five players from the current Ireland squad started a game for their clubs in England's top flight last weekend.

We've always had to take players from wherever we could, whether that meant a player discovering at the age of 26 that he had an Irish granny (John Aldridge) or a player deigning to play for Ireland after a lengthy courtship with other nations (too many to mention).

So we don't pick a squad of players who have been pampered and cosseted at the great football academies of the top European clubs. We get lads like Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath, who played League of Ireland football before only getting their international debuts in their mid-20s.


Or more common is the lad who scrapped his way up the ladder after early rejection -- like Matt Holland, released by West Ham as a kid but a future Ireland captain. Or Liam Lawrence, starting out in life as a footballer among the hard chaws and hard cases around Mansfield Town.

Or even future Champions League winner Steve Finnan, also rejected early on by a league club (Crystal Palace), who found his way into the non-league scene with Welling United.

So Paul Green is the latest addition to that cannon, the list of players who are now at the top of the ladder -- the European Championship qualifiers -- having begun at the lowest rung. And he says that his experience in life as well as football has made him more hungry and more determined to make every moment last, Green beginning his career as a pro with non-league side Doncaster Rovers in 2002.

"I learned my trade and it was a great experience working your way up. You have to graft for everything you have and I think it makes you appreciate it a bit more. I started off in the Conference, went up to League Two then League One then the Championship, then international football," says Green.

"It's a great achievement to get there but now that I have had a little bit of success, I am determined to work hard to stay where I am. If the chance to play in the Premier League comes along of course I'd love to take it.

"I don't think that someone like me can get too big for their boots. At least I hope not. You play in some hard places in the Conference - Stalybridge, Morecambe, Chester, Dagenham, Nuneaton - a long way away from the World Cup and European Championships.

"So I treasure every cap I get and every bit of success. It would be a fantastic achievement for me to start in Armenia tomorrow. Just being around the set-up is great experience, but to get a chance to start would be amazing," added Green, aware that an injury to Keith Andrews has given him an opportunity to start.

"There is a chance for me to start now and if it comes I will take it with both hands, but I'm not taking that for granted as Darron Gibson and Keith Fahey can play in there too.


"I think I am ready to step up now for the competitive games. I have had a taste of it in the friendlies, I loved every minute of it and a qualifier is a step up again.

"It has all come about very quickly for me, getting into the training squad first, then getting my first cap, my first start and goal, then starting against Argentina, and now the next one up could be my competitive debut, if I get a chance on Friday.

"The manager hasn't said much to me so far about the team, we were only in yesterday and trained for the first time, it was nice and easy, a case of getting the lads back into it. In the next few days I might have an indication of whether I'll start or not.

"When I first came into the squad it was a case of me coming in to just train and try to enjoy the occasion, which I did, and things just took off from there. Being in the squad now for the qualifiers is another achievement and I just want to keep on enjoying it. We had some training matches when I came in for that training camp in May and that was good for me as I had an idea of how the manager wanted to play.

"And the approach is the same for this game as it was for the friendly games, the manager wants us to have the same approach for every game.

"It's a great achievement for me to be here. Eight or nine years ago I was playing in the Conference. Playing international football is always a dream," added Green.

He's a new addition to the Ireland squad, only recruited in recent months, but he says his Irish roots are strong, so strong that the 'Plastic Paddy' label irritates him.

"You get a bit of stick over the Plastic Paddy thing, I think a lot of it is just banter. I know that it means a lot to my family and my granddad especially for me to play for Ireland," Green confesses.

"I was never involved at international level before. Nine years ago I was playing in the Conference and at the time international football was the furthest thing from my mind.

"But the further I went up the league, the more I started to think about it. We got promoted from the Conference with Doncaster, then I got into the Championship.


"I made the FAI aware of my background, they came to watch me and I got the call-up for the training squad and things happened very quickly," added Green, who displayed his Irish credentials by belting out a ballad as part of his initiation to the squad in May, Ireland squad policy demanding that new recruits sing a song in front of the group.

"The scariest moment for me so far with Ireland was when I had to stand up and sing. I saw The Wild Rover, and that was a very hard thing to do, luckily I have that out of the way now and playing at Elland Road or the Riverside Stadium will be nothing compared to the ordeal of having to stand up in front of 25 lads and sing!

"I was shaking at the time, we came down for our dinner and the three new boys in the squad -- me, Keith Fahey and Cillian Sheridan -- had to sing a song each. I was sitting beside Keith and we were both bricking it but we made it," Green jokes.

"It was important to me to sing an Irish song. I'm pretty close to my granddad and he always had Irish songs on in the house."

Tomorrow there's no time for maudlin balladry, just an Irish side fighting for the points. "It's been drilled into our heads, that there are no easy games and we will be well organised for this game tomorrow," said Green

"We will be positive. We played two games last summer against teams who were at the World Cup, Algeria and Paraguay, and we beat both of them. So that will give us confidence ahead of Armenia.

"We won't sit back, we will be positive, will be wary of them too as we know Armenia beat Poland and Belgium recently so they have something about them."