Visitors to Dublin may wonder why the Scottish national anthem, Flower Of Scotland, can be heard in Irish soccer grounds with fans of Shamrock Rovers FC eager to pay tribute to their new cult hero, free-scoring striker Gary Twigg. His move from the lower reaches of Scottish football to Ireland's top flight is already being heralded as the bargain of the year.
Some Rovers supporters may have questioned the wisdom of paying Brechin City FC €15,000 for Twigg, as the jump from Scotland's third tier to one of Ireland's biggest clubs is a sizeable one. However, Twigg has already earned his keep, scoring 15 goals in his first 18 games, and he is vying with Bohemian FC's twice-capped striker Jason Byrne to be Ireland's top scorer. "It was really nice having my name sung by the fans, and then my national anthem ... that was even better," Twigg said after Hoops supporters sang Flower of Scotland as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Dublin rivals St Patrick's Athletic FC.
His success in Dublin has seen the 25-year-old Twigg turn around a career which had slowed down after early promise. He first emerged in England's top flight, playing in the Premier League for Derby County FC when he was only 17, but he failed to live up to that standard and slipped to the lower reaches of English and Scottish football. However, when former Northern Ireland international Michael O'Neill – then at Brechin – was appointed Rovers boss in December 2008, he made capturing Twigg a priority, and he has since cemented his services with a long-term contract. "People here didn't know what they were getting with Gary but I knew what I was getting," said O'Neill. "He's on a long-term contract and we've agreed on another longer term contract. He's very happy here. He's loving his football and his relationship with the club."
Rovers supporters are currently enjoying the twin pleasures of success on the field and stability off it, with an impressive side seemingly capable of mounting a challenge to league champions Bohemians thriving in a new home: the Tallaght Stadium. After 22 years without a ground of their own, a sell-out crowd of 3,500 is a regular occurrence. Later this month the club will find themselves under the scrutiny of the world's media as Real Madrid CF play Rovers at the Dublin venue in a friendly game on 20 July. "When I went over to Ireland I thought I could maybe help Rovers get in to Europe, just to play in a UEFA game against a team from Estonia or Azerbaijan would have been a brilliant experience," added Twigg. "I never dreamed I'd get the chance to play Real Madrid so it will be unbelievable. It's only a friendly but it will be the biggest game of my career."
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