Monday, December 13, 2004

Another Munster appears bound for City

Jim Kernaghan, Sports ColumnistThe London Free Press

Look out, London, another Munster invasion could be coming.
Goal-scoring wizard Paul Munster, in the midst of an unheard-of vault into elite European soccer, hopes to introduce his younger brother Darren to London City fans in the coming season.
"I hope to be back in London to see Harry Gauss and the lads and I expect to have Darren with me," Munster said from his Belfast home, where preparations for a monster Munster party tomorrow are underway.
Paul Munster, for those who don't follow the round-ball game closely, is the kid who lit up the Canadian Professional Soccer League with a scoring genius never before witnessed. He scored 25 goals in 19 games for City and was signed by Slavia Praha of the top Czech Republic league in what has become a story overseas.
Gauss is almost giddy at the prospect of another Munster.
"He's an overlapping fullback with a left foot who can feed crosses from that side," the City manager said. "He's what we needed all last year. It would be incredible."
What's incredible is that history is repeating. Paul Munster was considered finished in competitive soccer three years ago due to a severe knee injury. His 19-year-old brother, with Crusaders of the Irish league, is recuperating from the same injury.
Paul made his comeback with City and regained the form that made him one of Ireland's top prospects. His exploits with City were passed to Slavia by ex-patriate Czechs here and after they looked at him overseas, they gave him a reported $100,000 signing bonus and a contract offer.
Munster has since become an intriguing story as the first player from the UK to play in the Czech Republic.
He says the attention has been dizzying. Along with media interest in Prague, there have been calls from Northern Ireland and England.
"It has been incredible," Munster said. "All the stuff on the Slavia website, television and newspaper interviews . . . it's hard to believe it's all happening. Three years ago, doctors told me I was finished."
Munster is at home in Belfast because in most cold-weather European countries outside England, Ireland and Scotland, play is suspended for two months. He'll return in January to prepare for a resumption of play in February.
When he arrived home Wednesday, flags and balloons adorned his parents' home.
"They've arranged a big party, with friends and family coming from as far away as Dublin," he said. "There'll be about 50, not counting me own friends. I told my dad he might have to put a tent up at the back of the house."
Munster has been in the Slavia first team three games, in action in one. He had a chance to score on what soccer folks call "a sitter" but missed.
"What happened was a pass came along the ground and it bounced up just as it got to me and went off my left calf," he said. "It was a sure score. The rest of the lads made sure I saw it later in slo-mo and that it was nothing to worry about, that I was off-side, anyway."
It did spark some debate on a fan website, with one Slavia fan suggesting he go back to Ireland and another coming to his defence rebutting the critic's understanding of soccer.
Munster also played in a reserve game, scoring a header into the top corner of the net.
"It's been kind of crazy -- all this recognition, playing in front of 20,000 people. After (the injury), this has been a dream."
Along with everything else, Munster even got to play in a fun hockey game with his soccer mates.
"I wouldn't call it playing," he said with a laugh. "Along with a Brazilian on the team, I'd never been on ice skates before."
Once on thin ice as a soccer player, though, he appears to be on solid ground.
And Harry Gauss can't wait to see his kid brother.


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