Alan Moore's move across the Irish Sea to Shelbourne FC has been fully justified.
By Aidan Fitzmaurice
In the past, footballers from the Republic of Ireland looking to succeed on the international stage have had to cross the sea to England or Scotland. This season, however, Alan Moore has proved that it can be done the other way round.
Moore experienced success in England in the 1990s, reaching two FA Cup finals with Middlesbrough FC and winning eight caps. He later moved on to Burnley FC, but in June opted to join Dubliners Shelbourne FC, the only high-profile Irish international to return to his homeland other than Liam O'Brien since the team's rise under Jack Charlton in the late 1980s.
Champions League run
Moore's switch was an immediate success. Shelbourne were the reigning Irish title-holders, but were looking to progress in the UEFA Champions League. In the first qualifying round first leg Shelbourne were 2-0 down against KR Reykjavík before Moore pulled a goal back seven minutes from time. Shelbourne equalised, and a 0-0 second-leg draw took them through on away goals.
Next up were experienced Croatian campaigners HNK Hajduk Split. Shelbourne trailed 3-1 in Split before an added-time goal from Moore gave them hope. Leading 1-0 in the return, the 29-year-old midfield player's last-gasp strike confirmed their progress to play RC Deportivo La Coruña.
Shelbourne switched their home first leg to Landsdowne Road, and were rewarded as 24,000 flocked to the national stadium to see the Spanish visitors held 0-0. It will be a tough task for Shelbourne to repeat the feat in tonight's return, but Moore - picked out before the tie by Deportivo coach Javier Irueta as the Irish champions' key man - is quietly confident.
"There's no pressure on us, all the pressure is on Deportivo," he said. "We're going out there to enjoy it, do ourselves justice and maybe cause an upset." Moore, in his first UEFA club competition, is certainly enjoying the run.
He said: "The Champions League with Shels has been brilliant. I said before that getting international caps for Ireland was the highlight of my career, but I think I have a new highlight now that we got past Hajduk and into this round against Deportivo.
I had never played in Europe before so to get through a round at my first attempt was brilliant."
Although Irish domestic football cannot match the resources of the Premiership, where Moore was a team-mate of the likes of Fabrizio Ravanelli and Juninho, the Middlesbrough youth product is impressed by what Shelbourne have to offer. "The players have had videos and DVDs of the other teams to take home and study, everything about the club is top class," Moore said. "We've done things the right way."
Ironically, Moore was discovered for Middlesbrough by the current Shelbourne manager Pat Fenlon, then a scout for the English side. Fenlon believes that the return of Moore - which has been emulated by Bohemian FC's signing of Dominic Foley and Gareth Farrelly - is beginning a trend. Fenlon said: "I think Alan will be the first of someone at a good age to come back. They are better off coming home to Ireland [than dropping down the English divisions], especially with the financial state of the game in England."
But Moore is still hungry for real success. "I did not want to come back when I was older and would have been open to criticism for just seeing out my career.
I want to win things with Shelbourne," he said. The chance is already there tonight.