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Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: Griffin so proud of special winner in fierce derby

By Stuart McKinley

Published 04/06/2015

Chase is on: The Republic of Ireland’s Robbie Keane puts Aaron Hughes under
pressure in 1999
Chase is on: The Republic of Ireland’s Robbie Keane puts Aaron Hughes under pressure in 1999

Every one of the 51,700 seats inside the Aviva Stadium will remain empty today. With every shout the players and managers make echoing around the vast arena, the atmosphere is sure to be somewhat eerie.

In the dressing rooms and on the pitch, however, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland players will be treating their behind-closed-doors 'training match' as seriously as any international they have been involved in.

That is the belief of Danny Griffin - the man who scored the goal the only time Northern Ireland have ever beaten the Republic in their own back yard, just over 16 years to the day.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and Republic counterpart Martin O'Neill agreed to the fixture ahead of bigger games next weekend, with Euro 2016 qualifiers at home to Romania and Scotland respectively.

No fans will be allowed in, with the Republic's friendly against England in Dublin on Sunday meaning two high-security games in such a short space of time wasn't possible.

While there may be bigger fish to fry just around the corner, Griffin, who is now back at his first club St Johnstone in a coaching role, doesn't believe any of the players will take their eyes off the ball today.

"I doubt it will be played like a friendly. Both teams are preparing for important European qualifiers and they will want a test, so going through the motions is no good to anyone," said Griffin.

"I know that every time I played for my country I wanted to win. We were there to win that game against the Republic of Ireland, even though it was a charity game, and whether it's behind closed doors or not I am sure that the Northern Ireland boys will feel the same this time."

Griffin became a cult hero with the Green and White Army as soon as the ball hit the back of the net at Lansdowne Road in May 1999.

The north v south friendly had been arranged as part of a fundraising effort after the Omagh bomb the previous August, which killed 29 civilians and unborn twins.

What those supporters who went on to sing Griffin's praises didn't know, though, was that he'd only been called up for the game at the last minute.

"I remember that originally I wasn't even in the squad for the game," Griffin revealed.

"I got a call from Lawrie McMenemy asking if I would like to be on the bench - which I was happy to do because it was my country.

"Neil Lennon picked up an injury and had to come off. As I was going on to replace him, Lawrie asked if I wanted to go to left back or centre midfield, so I went on in midfield, made a tackle on Alan McLaughlin and the ball ended up in the net.

"People have talked for years about whether it was a tackle or a shot - I'm admitting it was a tackle, but it was the best tackle I ever made.

"To score for your country is special and even though it was a fundraising game for the Omagh Bomb Fund, it was against our closest rivals and past one of the best goalkeepers around at the time in Shay Given, so that made it even better.

"I didn't score that many goals in my career, but I did score a few good ones because I took a lot of free-kicks.

"The one against the Republic is the only one I got for my country, so it is one of my favourites.

"It also means that nobody can say I didn't do anything for my country. I got 29 caps and scored a goal, which isn't a bad return."

Belfast Telegraph

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