The night I stayed with Ronaldo and his mates

Despite the stories of Fort Knox-type security, reporter Aoife Finneran found it rather easy to get up close and personal with Real Madrid
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It was supposed to be a ring of steel — but I still managed to spend the night with the Real Madrid football team.

And yes girls, Ronaldo, Raul and Salgado are even more delicious in the flesh.

It's not every day a girl is asked to track down some of Real Madrid's hottest stars. So, with you dear readers in mind, I amazingly booked myself into Carton House Hotel in Kildare.

There may have been a ring of steel around the plush estate that is home to the Real team for the next 10 days, but it didn't stop me from getting up close and personal with some of Spain's finest athletes.

Ladies, brace yourselves. He's gorgeous, talented and loaded, and he's coming soon to a pitch near you.

No, I'm not talking about the perma-tanned Ronaldo. Forget Cristiano, the £80m man. I went straight to the top, hooking up with Real's top goal scorer of all time, captain and all-round gentleman Raul Gonzalez.

In fact the generosity of the team's iconic star and also the charismatic ‘Il Due’ Michel Salgado combined to put a glorious sheen over an otherwise damp squib at Carton House.

It was with excessive fanfare that the 22-strong squad and 25 support staff arrived at their temporary training base. Only a small crowd of about 30 hotel residents waited to greet the team bus, flanked by motorcycle outriders.

Alas, unnecessarily heavy-handed security left quite a bitter taste in the mouth for several dejected football fans. Despite alighting the bus to cheers, the Real players were shepherded rapidly into the hotel in laughably undignified scenes.

Delighted cheers erupted when the 24-year-old Portuguese Ronaldo appeared, with one young fan rushing forward in the hope of getting his football autographed.

Clearly seen as a security risk, the defenceless child was then grabbed by security personnel who tossed his football away as they moved him to one side.

It was, alas, a disappointing scene, given that it would have taken the players only minutes to dispense a few autographs to the small crowd.

Amazingly enough, there were no hawk-eyed minders around when the gorgeous Raul and Michel broke free from the pack to head towards the hotel bar, much to the delight of waiting fans.

And with graciousness they posed for photographs and signed autographs for the small number of thrilled youngsters staying in the hotel.

As for the boy wonder Ronaldo; he's being shielded from pesky admirers by no less than three personal bodyguards.

They may earn millions but these guys can do nothing without permission.

Sources at the hotel revealed that the mini-bars in their first-floor rooms had been removed. Nor did they get the chance to sample the delights of the hotel's Linden Tree restaurant. Instead, they filed into the Fountain function room to dine on their own food, specially prepared to suit their specific dietary requirements.

We're reliably informed it includes an abundance of spinach and chicken.

Relaxed atmosphere helps Ronaldo win new admirers

Rather than a procession through the maddening crowds, it was more of a solitary pilgrimage for Cristiano Ronaldo in Carton House yesterday.

Amid all the hype surrounding Real Madrid's unlikely visit to Co Kildare for a pre-season training camp, one English newspaper had suggested that the world's most expensive footballer would be afforded a security operation similar to that enjoyed by Pope John Paul II during his visit to these shores in 1979.

Yet there was no great ceremony in the serene surroundings of this plush new facility when the 24 year old made the short walk from his hotel to the training pitch at lunchtime.

While team-mates such as Dutch internationals Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben walked unaccompanied as they happily posed for photos and signed autographs for the smattering of local kids and residents who had gained access to the grounds, the difference when Ronaldo emerged was that he had a security guard by his side.

But even the presence of that minder, Derek McGuinness -- who performed similar duties for Roy Keane during his final days with Ireland -- failed to stop the small congregation from approaching the Portuguese superstar, who duly obliged his adoring following by signing a few shirts.

Even the Spanish security team stood back, smiling rather than snarling, as the children milled around them.

Ronaldo, portayed as petulant and difficult, was anything but as she scribbled his signature on a young girl's shirt and high-fived a delighted passing schoolboy.

In truth, it was all very relaxed compared to what was predicated in a build-up which had suggested this visit would be a frenzied occasion.

Perhaps next Monday, when the Spanish giants travel to Tallaght to face Shamrock Rovers in front of a 10,000+ sell out crowd, the full weight of their security operation - which includes a delegation of their own bodyguards - will kick into action.

There was very little to keep them busy here, with badge wearers from organisers Platinum One, the Spanish dominated media, and numerous Real Madrid personnel meandering around without any great difficulty.

The only autograph hunters present were hotel residents and some lucky locals and guests who obviously knew people in the right places.

Everything ran smoothly, with the general public heeding the warning that they should stay away from the grounds because they would be refused entry.

Indeed, the main problem faced by those manning the entrance to the five star venue was from media around the world who turned up expecting they would gain entry despite not having gone through the stringent application process.

"There's a Spanish crew over there in a camper van, it looks like they came in off the boat this morning", quipped one security guard, "Not an accreditation between them."

Inside, it was business as usual for the footballers. There was no time to stroll around the salubrious environs of Carton House for a game of golf or a visit to the luxury spa.

Instead, they launched into an intensive programme by training three times during the day in temperamental weather conditions. While their contemporaries at the top table of European football will spend their pre-season in warm climes, the Madrid stars were forced to grapple with the driving Irish rain.

The cameras and assembled press corps were barred from the early morning session and the majority of the evening gathering, but were allowed in to watch the entirety of the midday session which mainly consisted of exercise drills and weight lifting as opposed to high intensity action. Those unable to breach the security cordon didn't miss too much.

Club captain Raul nipped into the media room to answer the questions of the Spanish press pack, in addition to a few queries in English through the medium of an interpreter.

Yet before he could offer his opinion on the Irish hospitality and weather, the Real Madrid PR girl brought proceedings to a shuddering halt. No time to hang around. After all, this isn't a holiday.

* Source: Evening Herald, Dublin.