Stars align for Mike’s World Cup odyssey

Getting stuck for words beside Nigel de Jong, chasing Robin van Persie on a beach, rubbing shoulders with Diego Maradona and discussing matters GAA with Roberto Martinez. Far from your ordinary trip has been Mike Griffin’s journey to the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

Stars align for Mike’s World Cup odyssey

Tralee native Griffin booked his flights south last summer and instead of adopting the spectator role like the hundreds of thousands currently flooding the streets of the Brazilian capital, he set himself a target, a formidable one at that.

“In January I started thinking about bringing the Na Gaeil club jersey in the hope of getting some high-profile signatures, auctioning off the jersey for a children’s charity when I returned home,” he explained.

“Two or three days into my trip, I came across the Netherlands team in my hotel and I got a tip that they were on the beach so I ran down and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the whole Dutch team strolling across the sand. The next thing I know I am standing next to Nigel de Jong not knowing what to say or do. I saw Robin van Persie and jogged onto him. I explained my case and what I was doing. He happily obliged. Further on was Wesley Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt. Wesley ignored me so I called Dirk. They all signed it and it took off from there.”

Griffin wormed his way into the hotel housing the English team, disturbing Leighton Baines while the left-back snacked on a wrap. The Everton footballer obliged in adding his signature to the Na Gaeil shirt before Griffin was swiftly removed from the building.

Encounters with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Danny Murphy, Ian Wright, Roberto Martinez, Santiago Solari, Martin O’Neill and Gary Lineker played out over the ensuing days, the highlight arriving last weekend.

“I heard Maradona was staying in the Radisson in Barra do Tijuca, the Beverly Hills of Rio,” he says. And so off went Griffin on another chase.

“The hotel receptionist said she didn’t know if he was about, but pointed out a security official. He pointed me to two more security guards, one of whom was Maradona’s. I looked over his shoulder and there he was. I told them my plight, but they explained it wasn’t in their job description to approach Maradona personally. I was told to wait for him to come out. Within 20 minutes the place really started to swell. Maradona eventually emerged and everyone rushed to him. Marcelo (Griffin’s housemate in Brazil) started screaming in Spanish ‘Maradona, Maradona, Irelande, Irelande, charity, charity’.

“Maradona just stared at me dead in the eyes. He grabbed the jersey and signed it. I kind of froze while all this happened. I have 14 signatures on the shirt at this stage, but Maradona’s is the only one on the front.”

And Mike isn’t finished yet. He holds tickets for the World Cup final and is expecting to have the jersey black with autographs by the time he steps back on home soil next month.

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