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Cunningham places Euro slot at the top of his agenda as he makes up for lost time

GREG CUNNINGHAM watched the last game of Ireland's qualification bid, against Estonia on Tuesday, on TV in his family home in Galway.

But the defender hopes that he can push on so much in the next few months that he can at least be in contention for a place on the plane to Poland and Ukraine in the summer.

When the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign started in Armenia two years ago, Cunningham was one of those on the fringes of the panel, having impressed in his appearances in friendly games under Trapattoni against Algeria and Argentina in the summer, and again at home to Norway when he started at left back.

But a broken leg, sustained while on loan from Manchester City to Leicester City in January of this year, has kept him out of action for the best part of a year and it's only now that the soft-spoken Galway lad -- still only 20 -- can start making up for lost time.

He's back in action at club level, having played three games on loan at Nottingham Forest, and is also featuring with Ireland again -- he played in back-to-back wins over Liechtenstein for the U21s in the past month.

However, making it into the senior panel for the Euro finals is another matter. Kevin Kilbane, a veteran of eight qualifying campaigns, may struggle to get into the 23-man panel as cover for Stephen Ward, now firmly established as Ireland's first-choice left back, but Cunningham says he intends to work as hard as possible between now and the squad announcement on May 29 to at least put himself in the frame.

"It would be brilliant to even get the attention of Mr Trapattoni over the next few months, of course I would love to play in the finals like every Irish player," Cunningham told the Herald.



DIFFICULT

"It's going to be very difficult for any of us young lads to get into that squad but I want to make it hard for the manager to not pick me, that means doing as well as I can for Forest -- or Man City if I go back there when the loan is up in the New Year.

"June is a long way away, anything could happen between now and then.

"The bonus for me is that I have played for the senior team already so Trapattoni knows who I am and what I can do.

"It's going to be very, very hard to get into that squad as only 23 players can go to the finals. I think the bulk of the squad picks itself because of what the lads have done in the qualifiers and the play-off, it's only right that they get their chance.

"It looks like there will be only two or three places up for grabs for the squad and you'd have a dozen or more players trying to get in there, and I'm down the list.

I'll try not to think about it too much, I'll play as well as I can for Forest in the next few weeks," added Cunningham who has two-and-a-half years left on his contract with City.



Crashing

Cunningham's world came crashing down in January when he suffered that horrific injury while in action for Leicester against Hull City, but now he's back.

"Fitness-wise, I feel I am there, I have played three games for Forest now and I hope to play against Ipswich tomorrow, and I have had two games for the Ireland U21s as well, so it's been good so far, I feel good," he said.

"I was out for so long that every game is a bonus. I am buzzing at being back and playing again, you can't imagine how good it feels to play a game when you've been out for nine or 10 months."

Results have not gone his way since the move to Forest, as the club lost twice in his three games, and the club are now in the relegation zone in the Championship.

But internationally speaking, things are much better as Ireland won 4-1 away to Liechtenstein on his U21 debut last month and then the Irish side won 2-0 at home to the same opposition on Monday.

"It's great being back in the Irish squad at any level," he said. "Winning in Liechtenstein was good but the win on Monday was even better, the game was in Sligo so my family were all able to make the trip up from Galway.

"We've had a good start to the U21 qualifiers, three wins in four games, and it's just a pity that there is such a long break to our next game in June. We have Italy at home."


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