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The Welsh Team The Day Gareth Bale Played In Croke Park's 1st Soccer International

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Alongside 21 other footballers, Gareth Bale, Wales's glistening galactico, made history when he started the first ever international soccer match at Croke Park.

The national approval rating for the Irish football team was hitting historic new lows. They were being roundly slaughtered in the battle for hearts and minds by their well-spoken oval ball counterparts. The buoyant rugby team captured the attention of that perennial floating voter, the Gaelic football supporter eager for some international fare. It was the era when that other cultural phenomenon - 'the girl who loves rugby while hating every other sport' - first emerged from the woodwork.

While the Irish rugby team's first two matches at Croke Park were an emotional rollercoaster deemed worthy of their temporary home, the football team's opening bow on Jones's Road was a perfunctory affair preceded by widespread public apathy (an extraordinary degree of public apathy considering it was Croker and this was a European qualifier), whose only saving grace was the fact that Ireland collected three points.

Listen to our discussion of the game on the Racket - @McCarthyMick, @DonnyMahoney, @ConorNeville.

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Under Steve Staunton's shaky direction, the unusually spacious Irish football bandwagon had reversed into a ditch and the casual fan quickly deserted it in favour of other more fashionable vehicles.


It had been intended that Bobby Robson sit alongside him like an experienced driving instructor but this didn't materialise thanks to Sir Bob's ill-health.

The public were insufficiently enthused by Steve Staunton's assertion, made following the excruciating 2-1 win away in San Marino, that Ireland are 'usually strong in March'.


In those highly strung months at the beginning of 2007, Steve Staunton, previously revered for earning 100+caps and featuring in three World Cups, wrote himself into history as a kind of 'Irish Graham Taylor'.


Two days after San Marino, the Late Late Show, in a segment inspired by the upcoming general election, invited a UK body language expert on to assess the behaviour and physical ticks of the party leaders.

Towards the end of the slot, they pulled out a clip of a sheepish looking Stan fronting up before the accusing faces of the press corps following the San Marino game.


With his shoulders hunched and his face white with terror, Stan tried to energise the assembled by pointing to Ireland's strength in March. The normally reserved Late Late Show erupted into cruel laughter.

As bad as the Irish team were by early 2007, they hadn't quite descended to the level of the Welsh team. Wales were in considerably worse shape than Ireland. They'd be spanked 5-1 by Slovakia in Cardiff in their second match and were still without a point. It's a mark of how beaten down was the Welsh footballing psyche that their press were far less exercised by their struggles than we were by ours.

Bale, a seventeen year old novice in his first season at Southampton, was filling a gap at left-back, the wing down which Stephen Ireland scored the Irish winner shortly before half-time. He was withdrawn fifteen minutes from the end. As usual, Wales boasted a few true star names and plenty of humble workhorses.


The Welsh team that played that day:

Danny Coyne; Steven Evans, James Collins, Lewin Nyatanga, Gareth Bale; Sam Ricketts, Joe Ledley, Carl Robinson, Simon Davies, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy

Used subs: Jermaine Easter, Danny Collins, Carl Fletcher

Of these names, Coyne, Giggs, Robinson, Evans, Bellamy have all formally retired. Davies has effectively retired. He is still playing at an amateur level in Pembrokeshire. Aside from Bale, Ledleyand Collins, who start tonight, and Nyatanga, who has fallen out of favour and currently plays at Barnsley, the remainder are currently in the twilight of their career.

The result generated a rather sniffy response from the football public, as if a 1-0 win over Wales was something we were entitled to turn up our nose at. But then, the Irish team and their manager had so little credit banked that the public were inclined to look dimly on all their efforts at that time.


Ladbrokes Bet of the Day

Reeling from previous blows, we have decided on a conservative shift, placing €50 on both teams to score tonight. The odds are evens.


Read more: The Farcical Days That Wales Have Overcome On Their Way to Euro 2016 Glory


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