Kevin Kilbane: Why Croke Park memories are extra special

Ex-Ireland international on the different emotions he experienced playing there

BY Kevin Kilbane 13:34 Friday 24 February 2017, 13:34 24 Feb 2017

Kevin Kilbane after winning his 100th cap ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

On the 24th of next month, we'll be coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Ireland soccer team's first match at Croke Park.

There was a lot of hype around that Wales game and everybody knew the significance of the game as well. We all knew what it meant.

Steve Staunton was manager at the time in 2007 and he mentioned the significance of the occasion to us before the game.

We also had lads in the squad as well who would have grown up not necessarily supporting Ireland and not necessarily having that real Irish background behind them. But of course, they were made aware of the significance of playing at Croke Park.

That was largely down to what Steve Staunton said to the team as well. So there was that little bit of pride and I think the lads who hadn't necessarily realised the significance of playing at the stadium beforehand certainly understood very quickly and did then realise what it meant to the whole of the country.  

Republic of Ireland's Stephen Ireland celebrates scoring with Robbie Keane and Kevin Kilbane against Wales at Croke Park ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

I think the FAI at the time had a lot of difficulty negotiating for us to play there - as the IRFU had as well - so we all understood the importance of it.

It was a great atmosphere on the day, a packed house at Croke Park - a very special game. So many people came to watch it and I remember seeing Paul McGinley, for example, in the lounge after the game. People from a lot of other sports would have come to see that particular match and took a real interest in it.

I'd been to Croke Park a few times prior to playing there that day, having gone to some GAA games there when I happened to be in Dublin.

I still remember the match itself vividly. The Stephen Ireland winning goal still springs to mind, rounding the goalkeeper and then scoring. It was a great game to be involved in.

It was a big time for us and certainly important that we won that game. It makes those memories extra special.  

I also remember playing Germany there later in 2007 which was a great game to be involved in and again it was a packed house.

Former Ireland International Kevin Kilbane before the 2016 All Ireland final ©INPHO/James Crombie

It was very different from the old Landsdowne Road where if we were playing some of the big sides, the tight crowd and the atmosphere that was generated differed and that was largely down to the fact that we're going 20-30 yards from the stands. The pitch was almost secluded from the stadium.  

I also won my 100th cap at Croke Park in a match against Montenegro on November 14th 2009. It was the end of the 2010 World Cup qualifying group campaign under Giovanni Trapattoni. We'd already secured the playoff spot and everyone knows what happened next...

That Montenegro game was extra special for me and for Shay Given as well. Shay was making his 100th cap. It was unusual in itself for two players to win their 100th cap for their country on the same night.

I don't recall that happening too often where two players are celebrating such a milestone together.

My family were at the game, my daughters were there too. I make no bones about it: I was crying before the game and there was a video montage played by the video analyst Brian McCarthy before the game and I was very emotional before that and when the anthems were being sung.

I was crying before the game as I got caught up in it all and I was just so glad on the night that we actually didn't lose it because it wasn't the greatest of games actually to play in.   

Off The Ball

Newsletter

The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week