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Republic of Ireland striker Leon Best. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland striker Leon Best. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland striker Leon Best. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

HE has spent four years up on the shelf, untouched by international football.

But Leon Best, who has the bit between his teeth again at club level after escaping Blackburn's reserves for some much-needed football on loan to Sheffield Wednesday (scoring a 90th minute winner against Brighton last night), holds out the hope his Ireland career is not a closed chapter as he dreams of wearing green again.

His most recent appearances in the Ireland shirt were against France and Brazil, some tasty opponents to have on the CV, but that was all a long time ago, as the last of his seven caps was way back in February 2010, against the Brazilians in London.

After that his Ireland career ground to a halt as Giovanni Trapattoni, frustrated by repeated injuries and withdrawals, finally stopped calling Best after the player was unfit to join the squad for the Euro 2012 play-off against Estonia.

The arrival of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane has not changed things as Best, still only 27, has had no contact from the FAI in more than two years.

For much of that time, he was out injured or out of form and was not in a position to demand a call-up.

But since moving on loan to Wednesday, he is back in the groove, with four goals in ten games for the Owls after his strike last night, and Ireland has come back into his mind again especially as, at 27, he is considerably younger than returned exiles Wes Hoolahan (30) and Andy Reid (31) who are potentially key players for the next campaign.

"It's hard because I haven't heard anything at all from Ireland in a long time. With the problems at my club, I have been concentrating on staying fit and getting back to playing, because when you get back playing and scoring goals, things can happen for you again," Best told The Herald.

"I feel I should have more than seven caps by now. It's funny that I was called up and picked more often by Ireland when I was in the Championship at Coventry than when I was in the Premier League with Newcastle. It was hard to understand.

"I haven't been involved at all in a long time and I haven't played a game for Ireland in four years. You need something to happen on both sides, I know I need to be playing well and scoring goals. When someone is thinking of you, they will at least send you a text to let you know you are in their thoughts, but when that doesn't happen and you do do well, everyone comes knocking on your door again and expects you to be all grateful and happy that they are there for you when they weren't there in the first place.

ENEMY

"It's hard, you are your own worst enemy at times and you only have yourself at the end of the day," added Best, who made his debut as Robbie Keane's strike partner against Nigeria in Craven Cottage in 2009. In his seven caps, four of them came in competitive games. I feel I can play a part for my country, with the way I am playing at the moment – and I am getting fitter with every game. These are the years, now, when I could be at my best, with more experience behind me. I know what I need to do now.

"International football has been frustrating for me. The manager picks the best players to win the game and whoever is playing well should be picked, the same rules apply for club football and the international team," says Best, aware that games in May, against Turkey and Italy, are on the horizon.

"I know Ireland have a couple of games in the summer and I'd love to be involved. I want to be there straight away, playing games and showing what I can do right away, you can't say you want to wait around for a few months, I want to play for Ireland as soon as I can.

"We don't have too many Irish strikers in the Premier League now, a lot of us are in the Championship and I feel I am at the desired standard to play. It shouldn't come down to how things are off the field or what you have done before, all that should matter is your form at that point in time, if you are playing well enough you should be picked."

He has been at Hillsborough on loan before, twice, but this move away from Ewood Park has suited Best, as his time at Blackburn has been problematic from day one. After his £3million move from Newcastle in 2012, he was downed before the season even started, suffering knee ligament damage in a pre-season friendly which sidelined him for seven months and he managed just seven games (0 goals) in his first season at the club.

This season started well, with a goal against Derby on the opening day of the Championship season, but his season tailed off as he was dropped, only rescued by that loan move to Wednesday.

"I am just glad to be back playing again," he said. "Since I have come to Wednesday I have had a good few games, the longest run of 90 minutes I had in the last two or three years."

Long-term, he's in the dark. Under contract with Blackburn until 2016, it seems unlikely he will see that out.

"I have two years left at Blackburn after this season, so I don't know what the future holds," he said.

"Blackburn haven't told me their plans and for me, that's the main problem as I don't know if I am coming or going. The main thing as a professional is to be playing football and to be happy. I think it all stems from playing."


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