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Where Eagles dare

IN HIS decade as a resident of England, courtesy of the day job as a professional footballer, Dubliner Owen Garvan has only been to Wembley once, and that was as a day-tripper for some American football action.

IN HIS decade as a resident of England, courtesy of the day job as a professional footballer, Dubliner Owen Garvan has only been to Wembley once, and that was as a day-tripper for some American football action.

But later this month the 25-year-old will get to Wembley as a key player, not a spectator, as Garvan has helped an unfancied Crystal Palace side reach the final of the Championship play-offs, where the Eagles will face Watford in a fight for a place in the Premier League.

It's a reward for the hard work done by Palace this season and the patience they have shown with manager Ian Holloway – a run of two wins in 14 games could have forced a trigger-happy chairman to judge Holloway quickly, after he arrived in mid-season to replace Dougie Freedman.



The chance to play in the Premier League would also be payback for Garvan, now in his eighth season of first-team football in England, especially as his season had been written off at one stage due to a knee injury which kept him out of action for almost four months, only for the Dubliner to make a dramatic recovery and return to the side in the last month.

"Going to Wembley is something else. I was only ever there once before and that was for an NFL game so to play would be a real achievement," Garvan told The Herald, the Dubliner enjoying a day off yesterday after playing a part in Monday's play-off win over Brighton.

"It's taken me a long time to get this far, a long, long time in the Championship and now to be heading to Wembley and know that you are 90 minutes away from the Premier League, it's a great feeling.

"I was a big Liverpool fan as a kid so the chance to go to Anfield and play there with Palace next season is a very big deal for me. I have never played there before so that's a big incentive for me, and now hopefully we can finish off the job in the final against Watford and get into the Premier."

Garvan's phone has been in meltdown mode since Palace won through to the play-off final, with 'well-done' texts battling for space with requests for tickets for the play-off from family and friends. And should Palace win promotion to the top flight next season he will be a man in demand for tickets, especially when clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool are playing at Selhurst Park.

But it's a pleasing problem for the former Ipswich Town man to have. The season had not been easy for Garvan, as the first part of the campaign saw him firmly ensconced in the Palace team, but he was knocked back by an injury and was out of the side for four months, only returning to make three appearances in the last three games.

"It was a hard time, it took me a long while to get back fit but I did enough to get back into the team and I was delighted that the manager had enough faith in me to pick me in the last few games, especially the play-off matches.

After being out for so long, I am shattered now after having three games in 14 days, so I'm happy that we have a two-week break between now and the play-off final against Watford," added Garvan, who ended speculation about his own future by signing a new two-year deal earlier this month.

Palace were seen as underdogs for their battle with Brighton but the Eagles saw off the Seagulls, largely down to the management of boss Holloway but also thanks in no small part to the Manchester United-bound Wilfried Zaha, who scored both goals in Monday's win.

"He is some player and I know he will do great next season with United," says Garvan.

"People saw in the Brighton game what he can do. Now he has to do that on a regular basis with United and that is a big step up, but he is some talent.

"Even the other night he didn't play that well but scored two goals to win us the game. I'd love to see him do well in the Premier next season – as long as Palace are there as well.

"Maybe Watford will be favourites for the play-off, just like Brighton were the favourites in the semi-final but we don't care about things like that.

"We're not a team of big-time charlies, we're a hard-working side. Even when we don't play well we rarely get beaten and that's a great thing to have on your side. We'll see at Wembley if it's enough to get us to the Premier League but I feel we can get there."