Training camp no social visit for Stokes
IT was a depleted Irish squad which gathered for the beginning of their summer training camp in Malahide yesterday, but Anthony Stokes is determined to approach it in the right frame of mind.
And he's got professional help to ensure that's the case. With a party-boy reputation from his time at Sunderland lingering, Stokes is desperate to turn over a new leaf and attributes his 23-goal season with Hibernian to a mature approach away from the game that has been influenced to some degree by the employment of a sports psychologist.
Getting out of Sunderland last summer was the first step, though Stokes is frank enough to admit that a spell on the sidelines will always have a knock-on effect for the social life.
"I'm glad now that I made the decision," he says. "I think I was going backwards there, I wasn't playing games and my fitness was terrible. And that affects your whole lifestyle because you're not concentrating on your football as much as you should be.
"You're much more inclined to go out if you know you're not going to be playing at the weekend, you know what I mean? I don't care what anyone says, that's a fact of life."
The discussions with the aforementioned sports psychologist, Dan Abrahams, have helped Stokes to retain focus, along with a return to working under John Hughes, who he thrived under during a loan spell at Falkirk.
"I was put in touch with him (Abrahams) by my agent," says Stokes. "He's worked with a fair few players in the Premiership. It doesn't change your whole lifestyle but, for me, it gets me thinking more about my football."
There were 14 players at Malahide yesterday, with assistant boss Marco Tardelli running through the absentees. Caleb Folan and Darron Gibson are out of this week's camp and next week's friendlies with Algeria and Paraguay.
Keith Treacy, James McCarthy and Marc Wilson all have knocks and it's touch and go whether they'll be in Malahide later this week. Andy Keogh is also absent while his partner expects their first child, while Paul Green was getting a boat over last night, something which Keiren Westwood and Kevin Foley did earlier in the day.
Liam Lawrence will be present today after being given permission to attend a wedding, with the team preparing for a behind-closed-doors friendly match with Paul Doolin's Ireland U-23 side tomorrow evening. Doolin's squad, composed entirely of League of Ireland players, will be keen to prove Tardelli wrong after he said, "The best players are not in Ireland. If you know a name, please come and tell us."