· Delighted to be here this evening to join with you in saluting and honouring the recipients of these prestigious Eircom/FAI awards.
· I am here tonight as a soccer fan to celebrate with you the achievements of our top competitors and to join with you and Eircom in congratulating them and, especially, thanking them for the thrills and spills, the enjoyment and excitement they have given all of us and followers of Irish soccer around the world.
· I'm sure there are some of you wondering why is a Government Minister who looks after pensions, unemployment benefits and welfare allowances involved in this awards ceremony.
· But you never know-some day you may need a helping hand from my Department.
· Although, looking at the salaries some of the players and officials here tonight are reported to be on, I'm not expecting queues of you waiting outside welfare offices.
· I have no doubt there are many of you also thinking……. I doubt if Seamus Brennan ever kicked a football in his life.
· Well, you would be wrong. I am proud to say that I once lined out for the UCG B team in the Collinwood Cup.
· Afterwards, I was told that I was more interested in devising the tactics for the game than I was in actually playing.
· It was around that time that I decided to hang up the boots, leave the soccer pitch and, instead, try my luck on the political field.
· Contrary to what you might think, the differences between football and politics are not that great.
· For much of my political life I have been described as one who plays on the right, a right winger.
· But, as in football, it is the captain who ultimately decides where you should play.
· So, of late, the captain has switched me to the left wing. Believe me; it takes a bit of getting used to. As most of you will know scoring with both feet is not easy.
· Over the years on the political field I have also become used to surviving many encounters…………. sliding tackles from behind from the Opposition parties,…… being left on the back benches for some big games……….. and having to watch helplessly more than once as political own goals were scored.
· And, of course, I am more than aware of what it feels like to be suddenly and unexpectedly transferred.
· But that is enough about the political game.
· People may make a song and dance, day in day out, about politics but so far there has not been a musical. We're happy to leave that to Keano and others.
· Anyway, I'd prefer not to have to imagine some of my Cabinet colleagues on stage in a swords and sandals epic.
· We are here this evening to look back on 2004 and the achievements of our leading players and international squads.
· In 2004 the senior Irish squad, under the committed leadership of Brian Kerr, made an excellent start in the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
· As Brian and the whole squad know they have the heartfelt best wishes of Irish people at home and abroad as they continue on this quest.
· I suspect Christy Moore is already working on a new song for Germany 2006-- "Joxer Goes Back to Stuttgart" where, no doubt, he will end up arm in arm with Brian Kerr singing The Fields of Athenry.
· Another memorable highlight of 2004 was Shelbournes's great adventure in Europe.
· The Paralympic and Irish Deaf Olympic squads performed with distinction on the world stage—a great credit to the teams and everyone in the FAI.
· Moving onto the awards themselves, we can see that yet again every nominee is a truly dedicated and talented soccer player.
· We fondly remember previous winners such as Paul McGrath and Steve Staunton, and past winners of the young categories—names like Robbie Keane and Niall Quinn.
· All of these, and the many other winners over the years, have shown that Irish players can take their place against the best in the world.
· My wish for the younger recipients tonight is that they can enjoy the same success and proudly wear the green jersey in future international campaigns on the international stage.
· It is great to see 'home' players being honoured here this evening—the people who play in the Eircom league, youth teams, schools and ladies teams. These players are also performing at a high level and showing similar determination and commitment.
· I am also delighted to see Glasgow Celtic manager Martin O'Neill chosen to receive the International Personality of the Year Award.
· The nominees this evening have the great honour, and responsibility, of being positive role models for all those children who play soccer, even if is just in the local park.
· Before finishing I want to acknowledge the work that Packie Bonner and his team are putting into making a success of the FAI Technical Plan.
· Finally, I would like to wish the three international team's success next week
· We look forward to 2005 and to the excitement and national pride I have no doubt we will all feel in the performances of the international squads.