The build-up at both Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers to this week’s Dublin’s derby has unusually been dominated by talk of Ireland call-ups.
For a fixture that tends to generate considerable hype as it is, it’s new territory for both camps.
Graham Burke of Shamrock Rovers did enough in his appearance for the Ireland XI against Celtic in Scott Brown’s testimonial last week to convince Martin O’Neill he was worthy of a place in the squad for a full international.
Likewise, when O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane came to Dalymount to see Bohs face Dundalk last Friday, he was suitably impressed by goalkeeper Shane Supple’s performance to believe he too merited a call-up for Monday’s friendly away to France and Saturday’s friendly against the USA at the Aviva Stadium.
Both players are available for tomorrow’s game but given the pressures and attention that derby weeks bring, rival managers Keith Long and Stephen Bradley could be forgiven for thinking the call-ups are an unwanted distraction.
But Long won’t entertain such a suggestion.
It’s nearly nine years since a Bohs player last received an Ireland call-up.
Coincidentally it was also a goalkeeper and coincidentally it was also against France as Brian Murphy hooked up with Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad for both legs of that infamous World Cup play-off.
You have to go back even further to 2003 for the last time a Bohemians player received game-time in an Ireland shirt.
Brian Kerr handed Glen Crowe the second of his two senior caps off the bench against Norway at Lansdowne Road after the striker made his debut as a starter under caretaker boss Don Givens, assisted by Bohs legend Billy Young, five months previously away to Greece.
Long said: “It hasn’t been a hindrance to us in the run-up to tomorrow’s game. The call-ups are a pleasant surprise for both clubs, particularly in the week leading up to the derby.
“We see Shane’s quality week in week out. We feel it’s a deserved accolade for him. He is an extremely level-headed bloke and he wouldn’t allow it to become a distraction.”
For Supple to be on the verge of international recognition at 31 years of age is remarkable.
His journey has been well-documented: Regular starter at Ipswich Town in the Championship, returning home to concentrate on his GAA career with St Brigid’s and Dublin, returning to soccer with Crumlin United, signing for Bohs 18 months ago and, as recently as last month, deciding to quit GAA to focus on his soccer career once more.
Long said: “You could say he’s had a journey, a back catalogue… a story to tell!
“We were delighted to be able to sign him when we did. He’s a natural leader and a massive figure around the club.
“Shane was destined for a career in the UK and walked away from it of his own accord.
“The likelihood is international recognition could have come his way a long time ago.
“So this is great for him. At 31 years of age playing in the League of Ireland, it doesn’t happen that often. We are all delighted for him.”
But all talk of Ireland recognition will be put to one side as Dublin’s great rivals come head to head at Dalymount Park tomorrow night.
The Gypsies have had the bragging rights the last three times the sides have met, yet Long is keen to hammer home once more that previous victories count for nothing.
He said: “I watched Rovers against St Pat’s on Wednesday. They looked very strong and have some good players on form.
“Previous games and results between us don’t matter tomorrow.
“They’ve shown they are capable of getting result against anyone in the league so we have to be at our very best.
“Our attitude, our discipline and our desire has got to be right. If it is, we have a good chance.”
Bohs are buoyed by the return of Derek Pender to the squad.
Supple has worn the captain’s armband in recent months in Pender’s absence. But the man of the moment could be forced to surrender that if Long deems his skipper ready to start.
Long said: “Derek’s in the squad tomorrow. It’s great to have him back as he is a leader and a quality player.
“He’s missed a full series of game and had a couple of set-backs along the way when he was nearing return.
“That was frustrating for him and frustrating for us but hopefully we’ll have him for the rest of the season.”
Bohs come into this game on the back of a 2-0 home defeat to Dundalk.
Long watched that from the stands as he served a one-match ban for being sent off against Waterford last month.
He added: “We were reasonably pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result.
“We had chances and if we’d taken them, it could have been a different game.
“Dundalk are that bit more experienced and clinical.
“But there were positives to take from it. Paddy Kirk, who came through our U19s, making his first start and he was there on merit.
“He’s been knocking on the door for a while now and he stood up for the challenge.
“It wasn’t a token gesture. It’s a justified reward for his attitude and hard work.”