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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Los Galacticos touch down in Ireland

Gareth Maher

It was not the most glamorous of arrivals, but Real Madrid's second wave of Galacticos landed in Dublin this week amid a flash of cameras and outstretched dictaphones. This is the kind of attention that the Spanish giants were expecting during their short stay in Ireland - where they start their pre-season tour with a friendly match against Shamrock Rovers in a brand-new stadium - but they began their Irish adventure by ducking out of the back door rather than struggling through the crowd in the airport's main foyer. The 65-strong entourage of players and club officials were then whisked away to Carton House in County Kildare, which boasts some of the best facilities in the country, to rest before beginning a nine-day period of intense pre-season training. Security around their training base has been increased to its highest ever level as the hordes of media and supporters hoping to get a glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo and company are kept at bay. However, they should get to see the world's most expensive player when Real take on Shamrock Rovers in a friendly on Monday, July 20. Rovers are already in the middle of their season, where they sit second in the League of Ireland Premier Division, and this fixture could be seen as a distraction for Michael O'Neill's side. But the club were never going to turn down the chance of hosting European giants like Real Madrid in their own ground. "Next week's game will have a fantastic atmosphere," said Tony Berney, founder of the Tallaght Hoops supporters club. Real chose Ireland as their pre-season destination for this year after being impressed by Barcelona's tour of Scotland two years previously. That jaunt was handled by PR company Platinum One, who just happened to be based in Ireland. The original request from the Madrid outfit was to play one game against a local side in Croke Park (capacity 82,300), but that venue is currently booked out for the Gaelic Athletic Association Championships and the next option, the RDS (where Leinster play their rugby with a capacity of 18,250), was also occupied due to a Show Jumping event. So the idea to play in the recently opened Tallaght Stadium was pitched to the Real officials and they agreed to it. Tickets for the game, priced at €60, were snapped up straight away and a percentage of those takings will provide much needed funds for Shamrock Rovers. The Hoops are the most successful club in Ireland, but in recent years they have flirted with extinction, so to get to the stage where they can play host to a club of Real Madrid's size shows the progress that they have made in such a short space of time. The Southside Dublin club were without a home for 22 years until they finally got the green light to start construction on a new ground and that venue was opened at the start of this year with one main stand. A second stand will be in place on the day of the match and the club are moving forward with plans to develop the stadium even further. While Real's arrival is definitely being treated as a one-off friendly game for Rovers as they try to stay focused on their league campaign, the players can't help but get excited about testing themselves against some of the best players in the world. Ian Bermingham, who only joined the club this season from University College Dublin, could be the man tasked with marking Ronaldo and he insists that he is not afraid of the former Manchester United attacker. "A lot of people seem to think if I really hammer Ronaldo it will put my name all around the world and I would be some kind of a hero. But, no, I could never, ever think like that," he said. "As long as I can catch him he'll know I'm there, but I want to swap shirts with him so it's better that he's standing at the end of the game." With the world's best player, Ronaldo, and fellow new recruit Karim Benzema in the Real squad, the 6,500 fans that were lucky enough to get tickets to this glamorous friendly could be witness to the debuts of two of the summer's biggest signings. For Real, this mini tour is a chance to get some tough training done before a new season starts. For Rovers, it is a sign of how far they have come and they are going to relish every moment of it as everyone connected to the club wants to be able to say that they were there when Los Galacticos landed in Ireland.

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