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More a Spanish siesta than a football frenzy

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One excited fan expresses her delight and a friend watches as Cristiano Ronaldo signs the back of her strip at Real Madrid's pre-season training camp at Carton House, Co Kildare

One excited fan expresses her delight and a friend watches as Cristiano Ronaldo signs the back of her strip at Real Madrid's pre-season training camp at Carton House, Co Kildare

The efforts of young disciples Evan O'Connor (8) and Calum Brady
(10) are rewarded when the star striker comes over to sign autographs for them after the training session

The efforts of young disciples Evan O'Connor (8) and Calum Brady (10) are rewarded when the star striker comes over to sign autographs for them after the training session

The efforts of young disciples Evan O'Connor (8) and Calum Brady
(10) are rewarded when the star striker comes over to sign autographs for them after the training session

The efforts of young disciples Evan O'Connor (8) and Calum Brady (10) are rewarded when the star striker comes over to sign autographs for them after the training session

Real Madrid legend Raul watches as new signings Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benezma are put through their paces at Carton House in Co Kildare

Real Madrid legend Raul watches as new signings Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benezma are put through their paces at Carton House in Co Kildare

Reporter Jason O'Brien gets in close for a picture with Ronaldo

Reporter Jason O'Brien gets in close for a picture with Ronaldo

Ruud Van Nistelrooy signs autographs for some fans

Ruud Van Nistelrooy signs autographs for some fans

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One excited fan expresses her delight and a friend watches as Cristiano Ronaldo signs the back of her strip at Real Madrid's pre-season training camp at Carton House, Co Kildare

RATHER than a procession through the maddening crowds, it was more of a solitary pilgrimage for Cristiano Ronaldo in Carton House yesterday.

Amid all the hype surrounding Real Madrid's unlikely visit to Co Kildare for a pre-season training camp, one English newspaper had suggested that the world's most expensive footballer would be afforded a security operation similar to that enjoyed by Pope John Paul II during his visit to these shores in 1979.

Yet there was no great ceremony in the serene surroundings of this plush new facility when the 24 year old made the short walk from his hotel to the training pitch at lunchtime.

While team-mates such as Dutch internationals Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben walked unaccompanied as they happily posed for photos and signed autographs for the smattering of local kids and residents who had gained access to the grounds, the difference when Ronaldo emerged was that he had a security guard by his side.

But even the presence of that minder, Derek McGuinness -- who performed similar duties for Roy Keane during his final days with Ireland -- failed to stop the small congregation from approaching the Portuguese superstar, who duly obliged his adoring following by signing a few shirts.

Even the Spanish security team stood back, smiling rather than snarling, as the children milled around them.

Ronaldo, portrayed as petulant and difficult, was anything but as he scribbled his signature on a young girl's shirt and high-fived a delighted passing schoolboy. In truth, it was all very relaxed compared to what was predicted in a build-up which had suggested this visit would be a frenzied occasion.

Perhaps next Monday, when the Spanish giants travel to Tallaght to face Shamrock Rovers in front of a 10,000 plus sell-out crowd, the full weight of their security operation -- which includes a delegation of their own bodyguards -- will kick into action.

There was very little to keep them busy here, with badge wearers from organisers Platinum One, the Spanish dominated media, and numerous Real Madrid personnel meandering around without any great difficulty.

The only autograph hunters present were hotel residents and some lucky locals and guests who obviously knew people in the right places.

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Everything ran smoothly, with the general public heeding the warning that they should stay away from the grounds because they would be refused entry.

Indeed, the main problem faced by those manning the entrance to the five-star venue was from media around the world who turned up expecting they would gain entry despite not having gone through the stringent application process.

"There's a Spanish crew over there in a camper van, it looks like they came in off the boat this morning," quipped one security guard, "Not an accreditation between them."

Inside, it was business as usual for the footballers. There was no time to stroll around the salubrious environs of Carton House for a game of golf or a visit to the luxury spa.

Intensive

Instead, they launched into an intensive programme by training three times during the day in temperamental weather conditions. While their contemporaries at the top table of European football will spend their pre-season in warm climes, the Madrid stars were forced to grapple with the driving Irish rain.

The cameras and assembled press corps were barred from the early morning session and the majority of the evening gathering, but were allowed in to watch the entirety of the mid-day session which mainly consisted of exercise drills and weight lifting as opposed to high-intensity action. Those unable to breach the security cordon didn't miss too much.

Club captain Raul nipped into the media room to answer the questions of the Spanish press pack, in addition to a few queries in English through the medium of an interpreter.

Yet before he could offer his opinion on the Irish hospitality and weather, the Real Madrid PR girl brought proceedings to a shuddering halt. No time to hang around. After all, this isn't a holiday.


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