Thursday 23 October 2014

Ireland yet to hear from O'Neill as he eyes Stoke deal

Garry Doyle

Published 27/01/2014 | 02:30

Stephen Ireland
Stephen Ireland

DESPITE being told Stephen Ireland wants to end his seven-year-absence from international football, Martin O'Neill has yet to decide whether to recall the Cobh man for Ireland's friendly against Serbia in March.

Instead, O'Neill's hesitancy in relation to the Stoke midfielder, who caused a controversy by walking out of the squad ahead of a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier to supposedly mourn the loss of his grandmother, remains in place.

Not renowned as a quick decision-maker at the best of times, O'Neill's deliberation on this issue is understandable given how his predecessor, Giovanni Trapattoni, was rebuffed by the midfielder when they had face-to-face talks five years ago.

Since he succeeded the Italian in November, the former Aston Villa, Sunderland and Celtic manager has been made aware of the mixed feelings members of the Irish squad hold towards their one-time team-mate.

Ireland confirmed yesterday he had yet to receive a call from O'Neill and initial contact is more likely to come from Roy Keane, whose Cheshire home is a five-minute drive from Ireland's.

Should Keane arrange a meeting, he is likely to get a favourable response.

"I would like to go back and play two campaigns," said Ireland. "It appeals to me much more now than it did under Giovanni Trapattoni.

"But I have had no contact whatsoever from Roy Keane or Martin O'Neill. I think they know the stage I am at – hoping to win a contract here at Stoke and are just leaving me to it.

"There is so much at stake for me and my family right now. My contract expires in the summer and I don't know what is around the corner. I hope it is here at Stoke.

"With Ireland, the future looks good. Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill has been a genius appointment."

Significantly, it was O'Neill who negotiated Ireland's transfer to Aston Villa from Manchester City, so the regard Ireland has for the Republic's manager is understandably high, much more so than it was for Trapattoni, whose meeting with the Cobh man in 2008 turned into a farce.

"When I came into the room, Trapattoni was on the phone for ages," Ireland said. "We said a few words and then a different phone rang.

"We said a few more words and then another phone conversation took place. Me and my agent spent the whole time looking at each other, rolling our eyes and thinking this was comical.

"It pushed me further away rather than interesting me to go back."

Now O'Neill is allowing Ireland to make all the noises, remaining non-committal. The announcement of his squad to play Serbia on February 20 will tell us once and for all if this seven-year saga is about to end.

Irish Independent

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