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Hunt recalls his roots as glory of big stage looms

THE TRUE-BLUE Dubs in the Ireland side - and there were six of them in the Irish starting XI at home to Estonia last night - have spun tales and yarns all week about their memories of past glories.

Stories about street parties in the estates of Tallaght for the World Cups of 1990 and 1994, scenes straight from Roddy Doyle.

You could fit the entire population of Clonea-Power into a small hall, but that won't stop the Co Waterford village from bursting with pride when their local hero, Stephen Hunt, takes his steps on the big stage with the Irish team, having done the hard work in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.

"This is for all my family and friends, everyone who's helped me through my career to get me here. It's for my little kid back at home - I'm dying to see the little bugger. It's just a great feeling," a clearly ecstatic Hunt told the Herald last night.

It's a sign of a shift in power in the Irish game, looking at today's team through the eyes of history. The squad which travelled to West Germany (for that was a country then) for Euro '88 contained seven Dubliners, 12 Anglos and just one player from 'the country' (Packie Bonner).

Now, places like Lifford, Adamstown, Gortnahoe and Kilpedder will see their sons, their exports, line out on foreign fields like Warsaw, Poznan and Kiev next summer.

"I know where I come from. I come from a small little village called Clonea-Power," Hunt reflected.

"I started with Rathgormack, I played for Johnville and Carrick United. I know everyone there will be happy, I'm happy. This puts us on the map. It's difficult to put a place like that on the map, but maybe having a player from there at the European Championship finals will do that.

"I will just enjoy this for now but I will also refocus and come back stronger because I know I need to do better, but for now I am delighted to be through," said Hunt.

The Wolves man had played only a bit-part in this campaign as last night was only his second start of the qualifiers, with Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady the established wide men (though let's not forget the injured Liam Lawrence, who started the first three games of the campaign and also served Ireland well in the World Cup qualifiers).

But Hunt admitted that both he and his team were sub-par last night.

"I know I need to play better than that to get into the starting 11. I will take it on the chin and move on. I won't let that spoil our desire to get to the European Championships," he said.

"The game was an anti-climax to a certain degree but I'd rather have that than have a few nerves. The first leg killed the tie and we're just delighted to be through.

"It was a bit flat last night but I couldn't care less. We'll celebrate, refocus for February and the next friendly, to a certain degree, but also work hard on the club situation for the next six months."