MAYNOOTH, Ireland - The Irish town of Maynooth, known as an education centre for catholic priests, welcomed some very different trainees this week with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and his new Real Madrid team-mates. Not that many locals would have noticed. The free spending Spanish side are keeping a low profile on the outskirts of Dublin with fans told to stay away from their pre-season training camp. Some 1,500 were left at the gates on Tuesday in the vain hope of seeing a Galactico or two. Photographers hoping to catch the world's most expensive player Ronaldo or fellow major signing Karim Benzema sneaking out for a late night drink would have been just as disappointed. "It really is all about work for them, the week is totally about providing an intensive working environment," David Webster, general manager of the Carton House hotel, Real's plush temporary home for the week, told Reuters. The hotel, which lies on an eight-century old estate of 1,100 acres, boasts two golf courses with one designed by Colin Montgomerie twice hosting the Irish Open. It was first mooted as Real's summer base late last year. After hosting the Brazilian national team six months earlier, the hotel invested heavily in a state of the art playing surface, complete with an irrigation system identical to that at Old Trafford. Together with Platinum One, the Irish promotions group that brought Barcelona to Scotland during the last two pre-seasons, they offered the Spanish champions fiercest rivals some peace, quiet and moderate weather. IDEAL CLIMATE "At this part of the year when intense work is done, the focus is not on a commercial or a brand building trip, it's where can we get the best facilities and the best climate to prepare," Eamon McLoughlin, head of football at Platinum One, told Reuters. Ireland has rarely been described as having the best climate and the players were duly welcomed by showers of rain on Monday but the clouds of county Kildare provided welcome respite from the July heat of Madrid. "They are perfect conditions for our pre-season," Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado told a news conference. "The weather is really nice to work in. We were training in Madrid in 40 degrees so I think Ireland is perfect." While hotel staff are as focused as the players on meeting requests from keeping the grass length at exactly 23mm to providing five specifically tailored meals -- each first tried by the club doctor -- they remained excited by the visit. "We have been waiting for four months," said Mari Carmen Lopez, the hotel's wedding planner, originally from Malaga. "People have been saying they are coming and then they are not but at last now they are here and we are all very happy that they are joining us." On site residents and lucky hotel guests were just as thrilled with around 100 autograph hunters -- many of them children in newly purchased white jerseys of Real -- lining the barriers on the way to the training pitch on Tuesday. However, there was only one man they were after. "Mammy, it's Ronaldo," cried one boy as the 93 million euro man approached to dwarf the value of the other signatures on the back of the boy's shirt. "Did you get it John," asked a parent as the gaggle chased the former world player of the year towards the changing rooms. The child's beaming smile suggested only one outcome.
15 July 2009
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