Irish squad relax at spa at Polish resort in countdown to Croatia game
THE Republic of Ireland squad has been given a healing hand as preparations get under way for their Euro 2012 campaign - local spa water from their Polish resort base.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni, captain Robbie Keane and team members were welcomed to the Baltic Sea holiday destination of Sopot at a civic reception attended by several hundred locals and a handful of Irish fans.
Ireland's record goal scorer showed little signs of weariness after a late night travelling from Hungary and insisted the team is not in the competition to be also-rans.
"It's not so hard for us," Keane joked about the Republic's group of death.
"But we didn't come here to make up the numbers. We always play better in the big competitions. We play the first game against Croatia and now that's the most important thing for us."
Keane and teammate John O'Shea also took time out after the open air reception to sign dozens of autographs and the captain also wrote his name on the arms of some adoring Polish female fans.
The gesture of the gift of Sopot salt mineral water, sourced from St Wojciech's Spring 800m below sea level and renowned for its healing and conditioning properties, was reciprocated by the Irish delegation with a message of thanks inscribed on a Waterford Crystal vase.
FAI chief executive John Delaney also used the event to call on Poles to get behind the Irish team in their quest for glory.
"We know that you will be following the Poland team in the Euros but we would like you to make Ireland your second team so when Poland are not playing we would like you to support Ireland because there's a great connection between the Polish people and the Irish people," Mr Delaney said.
"Thank you and get behind the Irish team."
The Mayor of Sopot Jacek Karnowski urged the crowd to get into the spirit of Euro2012 and accepted the gift wearing an Ireland jersey.
Keane also mentioned the bond between Ireland and Poland.
"There're so many Poles in Ireland that's why maybe we are so popular here," he added.
Sopot is not only the base for the Ireland team during the competition but it is also gearing up for an influx of about 20,000 Irish supporters over the next week.
The Republic are based in the Sheraton Hotel in the town centre and the training schedule ahead of the crucial Group C opener against Croatia on Sunday kicks off this evening in nearby Gdynia with a specially arranged open session for fans to see the players up close.