Cristiano Ronaldo touched down in Dublin tonight with his Real Madrid team-mates for a nine day training camp.
The 24-year-old, who transferred from Manchester United in a record-breaking £80m (€92m) summer signing, was part of a 65-strong group who flew in from Madrid shortly after 7pm.
Karim Benzema, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were also among the entourage who were whisked away to the luxurious Carton House hotel in Co Kildare after boarding a bus on the runway of Dublin Airport. They will continue pre-season training there before playing a friendly against Shamrock Rovers next Monday.
Just a handful of disappointed fans waited for a glimpse of the team in the arrivals hall, but they were overshadowed by a large group of supporters who cheered Irish teenagers returning from World Youth Championships.
Lifelong fan Jarek Cienkusz, from Lublin in Poland, said he was surprised when nobody was at the airport.
“Now I realise it’s because they are not coming through,” said the 29-year-old who lives in Dublin.
“I’m disappointed I’m not going to get to see them, but I got tickets on ebay for the match. I paid 250 euro for two tickets.”
A spokesman for Shamrock Rovers said while they were excited about Ronaldo’s arrival, players were more concerned about the League of Ireland.
“We always believed Ronaldo was going to come, now it’s a question of whether the coach plays him next Monday night,” said John Byrne.
“We all feel very excited that one of the world’s greatest players is coming here, but we also have some important league games.
“At the end of the day this is a friendly against Real Madrid.
“It’s very much ’the circus is coming to town’. The league is still a priority for us.”
On Saturday second-placed Shamrock Rovers play Sligo Rovers and the following week they face Bohemians – who are currently top of the League.
But thousands of fans hope star attraction Ronaldo will be in the starting line-up against the south Dublin team at Tallaght Stadium.
Temporary seating was installed at the venue to increase capacity from a usual 3,000 to 10,200. The sell-out fixture will also be a massive boost to the club’s coffers, which has been hit by financial problems in recent years.
Tony Berney, founder of Tallaght Hoops supporters club, said the match is a scoop for the area as well as Shamrock Rovers.
“Next week’s game will have a fantastic atmosphere,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard obviously, but after all it is only a friendly game.
“I don’t want to rain on Ronaldo’s parade but as far as I’m concerned as a Rovers fan the priority is the league.”