Five famous soccer players from abroad with GAA connections 7 years ago

Five famous soccer players from abroad with GAA connections

Probably the only time you’ll hear Xabi Alonso, Socrates and Dean Windass mentioned in the same breath.

The worlds of professional baseball, professional football and the GAA merged this week when AIB, sponsor of the GAA Club Championships, revealed details of a ground-breaking new documentary.

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Titled ‘The Toughest Trade’ to coincide with AIB’s #TheToughest campaign, it will see English footballer David Bentley and All-Star baseball player Brian Schneider trade places with two of the biggest names in the GAA in an hour-long documentary that will air on TV3 next month.

While Bentley and Schneider will get a taste of what life is like in the GAA, they’ll also have to quickly come to terms with a challenging training schedule coupled with a full-time job and find out why the AIB GAA Club Championships are the toughest of them all.

On the other side, Jackie Tyrell from the James Stephens club in Kilkenny and Crossmaglen footballer Aaron Kernan will be temporarily transferring to a Floridian Major League Baseball team and Sunderland FC to see what life is like in the world of professional sport.

This evening, David Bentley will tog out in the Crossmaglen colours in a challenge match against Silverbridge Harps and it got us thinking about past examples of soccer players from abroad with connections to our native games.

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It’s quite the mix.

Xabi Alonso

Probably the most famous and most exotic of footballers to have a link with the GAA, Alonso famously dabbled with Gaelic Football during his time as a Spanish exchange student in Kells in the mid-90s.

"I played Gaelic Football with some of the local boys. It was very fast, very tough. Maybe they should wear crash helmets,” Alonso said.

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If he thought the young lads he was playing with were tough, he should have watched footage of the notoriously tough Meath teams of the late 80s and early 90s under Sean Boylan.

Tiki-taka, me eye!

Socrates

Romantic as it would have been for one of the classiest Brazilian midfielders of all time to have played GAA, unfortunately this one has to be filed under ‘urban myth’.

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For decades, tales that Socrates played soccer for the UCD reserve team while studying medicine in the late 70s did the rounds.

Socrates of Brazil

Not surprisingly, the Chinese Whisper effect led to suggestions that he, like Alonso, had also tried Gaelic Football and was even part of a team that won the Sigerson Cup.

Alas, neither tale is true, but don’t be surprised if you hear somebody claim it as fact again at some stage; that’s how powerful that particular urban myth has become.

Joey Barton

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A tenuous link, perhaps, but we can’t think of anyone who embraced Sky’s coverage of the GAA in the UK more than Joey Barton, who regularly tweeted his admiration for both codes at various stages last summer.

No-nonsense, tough-tackling and with a mouth that won’t quit, we reckon Joey would fit in quite well in the GAA if he ever felt like giving it a go.

Darren Fletcher

No county loves claiming celebrity fans more than Mayo and they’ve a pretty good one in former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher.

Fletcher has strong links with the green and red through his mother, Bridie (nee Gielty), who hails from Achill Island.

The current West Brom captain is a regular visitor to Achill and even missed the Manchester derby during an injury absence while still a United player in 2013 to attend the All-Ireland Final between Mayo and Dublin.

As it was for all Mayo and Manchester United fans, that was a really, really bad day for Darren.

Dean Windass

If Xabi Alonso is the most exotic of footballers to have a link with the GAA then it’s probably fair to say that Dean Windass is, well, not as exotic.

The goal-hungry striker, who had more clubs than Rory McIlroy’s golf bag during his eventful football career, signed for Yorkshire club Hugh O’Neill’s last year.

Judging by his quotes upon joining the club, he wouldn’t be the energetic wing-forward type you’d expect to see bombing up and down the pitch.

WindassGAA

“I have never played Gaelic football before but hopefully I can pick up the skills soon and hit the onion bag as many times as I have done with previous clubs," Windass said.

We’d love to see Francie Bellew get a hold of him.