IN the recent history of the Republic of Ireland team, a tired habit of finding a second-generation scapegoat has become a recurring theme.
Lee Carsley was the first to wear the crown and complained loudly about the burden.
Gary Breen and Kevin Kilbane then shared a stint in the unpopular chair before their persistence finally turned hearts and minds. And now it’s Paul Green’s turn.
The pet pupil of Giovanni Trapattoni’s class has yet to win over the fans, or indeed their rabble-rousing cheerleader, Eamon Dunphy, and in the aftermath of Ireland’s 2-2 draw with Austria, Green shipped the blame for everything from David Alaba’s equaliser to the banking meltdown in Cyprus.
Given his technical limitations, he makes for an easy target.
There is also the inescapable fact that the two main rivals for his position, Wes Hoolahan and Darron Gibson, have cut it at a higher level and are clearly superior talents.
And yet, prior to the Austrian meltdown, when Green was posted on the right side of midfield for the final, calamitous eight minutes, he had produced his best performance yet for Ireland, policing the corridor of space Zlatan Ibrahimovic loves to inhabit on his home Stockholm turf.
Even Dunphy thought so. The world champion of put-downs had, according to Liam Brady, labelled Green “a joke” off-air before the scoreless draw in Sweden, but afterwards was dishing out some rare praise.
“Either way, what people have to say doesn’t bother me, it really doesn’t,” replied Green. “Pundits are there to criticise so it’s kind of what you expect. Anyway, in this game, you need a thick skin and a strong mind. I’ve both.”
He’s needed it. As a schoolboy protégé, the Yorkshire-born midfielder was released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16 and forced into love on the rebound, settling down with Doncaster Rovers on their YTS scheme.
Paid less than £100-a-week, and a little sceptical about the club’s capacity to return to the Football League, a brief turnaround in his fortunes appeared possible after an FA Youth Cup game, when he inspired Rovers to the unlikeliest of victories over Manchester United.
On the back of this performance, Green was handed a trial at Old Trafford but a week later he was picking himself off the floor again after being told by United he was too small.
All of which left him going through the horrors for a time before ultimately he accepted his lot.
“For me, non-League football with Doncaster was a good start, really, cos that’s made me grateful for what I have today. You see some class talents coming through at the academies of big clubs and they don’t fulfil their potential. And you see some players come down from Premier League teams to the likes of Doncaster and it’s like a culture shock for them.
“The way clubs treat them in the Premier League — getting them into nice hotels, making sure they don’t have to wash their kit or clean their boots — is not the way I had it young. In the Conference, with Doncaster, we had to bring our kit home and wash it. I moved out pretty early from my mum and dad’s place, so I washed it myself, and sometimes went in with a dirty kit, which was a bit of a nightmare.”
A bit of a nightmare is what he has had to endure with Ireland more often than not. The story starts with his debut in 2011 when an Icelandic ash-cloud resulted in the cancellation of his flights and a mad-dash across England and Wales to catch a ferry from Holyhead so he could arrive in time for his first training session.
It wasn’t the last time he would ditch his travel — or holiday — plans to represent his country, abandoning a family barbecue on a Saturday afternoon last summer to catch the last flight out of Leeds that night and join Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, following Keith Fahey’s withdrawal from the squad with injury.
Then, after yet another career rejection, he got a late call-up for February’s friendly against Poland, missed the plane and got just 15 minutes training under his belt before playing the following evening.
“In football, in life, you can’t expect things to go smoothly for you,” he says. “So you just got to make the most of things. That’s what I’ve done from my Doncaster days. What can I grumble about anyway? A missed flight? Come on, I have a dream job. I love going to work every day. I’m a lucky man.”
Plenty have said he is extremely lucky to have made it this far, especially when you think of the talented Irish internationals over the years who never played in a major championship finals.
“Well, I believe in myself, although I have not always been like that. Like with Ireland, I never did declare myself Irish until I was in the Championship, because obviously I didn’t think anyone would even look at me. But when I did make myself available, I backed myself to achieve. I think I have done, too. I’ve played alright for Ireland.
“I’m proud to do what I have done. Nobody can take away from me the fact that I played against the World and European champions in the second best tournament in the world, even if it was for only 15 minutes. I’m pleased with what I have achieved — and I want a bit more. I’d love to test myself in the Premier League. That’s the only thing missing.”
Actually, it is not the only thing. When he moved to Derby from Doncaster, there was no longer loose change jangling in his pocket and a chance to get on the property ladder seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
Smartly, he looked at houses he could afford. Foolishly, he brought the estate agent’s brochure into the training ground to show a couple of his friends, not knowing Robbie Savage was within earshot. Tearing the brochure out of his hands, Savage laughed at the home Green was about to buy, dismissing it as smaller than his garden shed.
“If I thought I had arrived in the big time, that comment reminded me I still had more to do,” Green said.
If he still is someway off achieving his dreams, then so, as Group C playoff hopefuls, are Ireland. “As a player, I give 100 per cent. Say what you like about this Ireland team too, but we keep going. And we’re not giving in on this World Cup campaign without a fight, either.”