Munster ready for big leap

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Not too much rattles Paul Munster, not the excessive coverage of opponents, not the daring promises he has had to fulfil to fans, not the biggest step the long-striding London City scoring phenom will be making shortly.

Not even the fact that facially and physically he resembles another willowy Belfastman named George Best, who was named the British footballer of the half-century at the millennium.

"It's all up to me," Munster said with his Ulster accent yesterday when discussing his invitation to a three-week tryout with Slava Praha of the top Czech Republic league. "I'm ready for it."

He said it with the same kind of conviction he showed fans before City's final game against Brampton. He said he'd score four goals and did in the 5-0 victory.

The kid London City manager Harry Gauss nicknamed The Real Deal comes across more confident than cocky, sure he'll be able to hit the back of the net whatever the circumstances. You wonder whether the greatest setback of the 22-year-old's career in some part has increased his hunger to score.

Three years ago, Munster was knocked out of the game with a severe torn knee cartilage. He was pronounced finished for competitive soccer and rehabilitated his injury cautiously but relentlessly. The Canadian connection is the result of his participation in a Kitchener leadership program earlier.

While he worked on his knee, he returned to visit the family that billeted him. A Kitchener friend of Gauss insisted he have a look at him.

Gauss didn't have to look long. After shaking off some rust in reserve games, Munster was installed in the City lineup and the scoring began.

Before the 20-game season was over, Munster had scored 25 goals and might have had more had he not been suspended one game.

In one match, City was down 2-0 and Munster scored three goals in 15 minutes before halftime. The opponent tied the score in the second half and Munster got his fourth goal in injury time for the victory.

He wasn't surprised. As a kid in school, later with Northern Ireland's top youth team, that's what he's always done. It wasn't long before the scouts began turning up. After a representative of Slava saw him a couple of times, he extended the invitation to go to Prague.

Now Munster is going to have to do it at a level he's never experienced before.

"The therapy was intense. I couldn't kick a ball," Munster said.

"You still can't," teammate Karim Bensari ribbed.

Later, Bensari says he's never seen a goal-scorer like Munster.

"I don't know how he does it. There are two guys on him and there's no chance at all and then 'boom' the ball is in the back of the net and you're standing wondering what just happened there."

Munster can't explain it, either, just that he's always led his team in scoring. The goals can come off either foot or his head.

"The nickname we gave Paul is dead-on," Gauss says. "He's one of those players that makes you salivate. He's a sniper and he's a team man, which is a rare combination. He's going to make somebody overseas look like a genius."

Munster will be going to Prague with Marienbad owner Jerry Pribil, who has connections with Slava Praha. Slava officials will be seeing something that can't be taught in either soccer or hockey --, and that's natural scoring.

The odds are long but Munster is burning for the day his father, Paul, and mother, Sheila, can fly from Belfast to watch him in action again.

It would be some story -- a kid whose career is deemed over, comes back to predict goals in bunches, then sets out to do it at every level.


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