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'It's time i nailed down my ireland jersey'

CELTIC star Darren O'Dea insists that it's time he stopped treading water in international football and began to make his mark with the Republic of Ireland team.

And the 23-year-old intends to start that work immediately by proving to Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni during this week's Dublin-based training camp that he's good enough to play in next week's friendly games at the RDS against the World Cup-bound Paraguay and Algeria.

Just 14 players assembled for the first training session with Ireland yesterday but O'Dea was one of the most experienced at club level, having spent four seasons in the Celtic first team and the only one, apart from Celtic team-mate Cillian Sheridan, to have played in the group stages of the Champions League.

But the Dubliner's international experience is minimal, just one cap from a 30-minute cameo as substitute in the win over Limerick last year, and he's keen for that to change.

"I suppose it's strange for me to come in with so much experience at club level but so little with my country, just one senior cap, and that was in a friendly," O'Dea told the Herald.

"That comes from being at a massive club like Celtic, you get to play in big games in the SPL and the Champions League. You have so many top players who never get the opportunity to play in the Champions League. I feel I have more than enough about me to handle the pressures of playing international football. It's all well and good talking about it, what matters is taking your chance when it's given to you and now that's what I have to do.

"I am delighted to be here, any chance you can get to play inter- national football is fantastic and I'm hoping that I'll get a chance in the two friendlies. Any game like this is an opportunity to show the manager what you can do," O'Dea added.


"I'm 23 now but I only have one cap. Lads like Robbie Keane had dozens of caps by the time they were 23.

"I need to move things along with Ireland. Really I can only do that by playing club football week in, week out. I have been doing that in the past few months with Celtic. Since I came back from Reading on loan, I have been doing that. I played in almost every game for Celtic and that will only benefit me coming into the international scene," said O'Dea.

Injuries have left Trapattoni short of cover in central defence as Sean St Ledger will miss the two friendly games following surgery, while Richard Dunne and John O'Shea would both be excused after a long, hard season which saw both men play through the pain barrier for their clubs, thus offering O'Dea an opportunity.

"I can't look around me and worry about the other players there in my position, I have to look at myself alone," he said. "If I am playing well at club level every week, then I have a chance. And the next two weeks with Ireland could be my chance, so if I am picked in the two friendlies I have to take that chance with both hands.

"It's up to me to get into the team on my own merits, not because someone else is missing. It won't be an easy task to push the other defenders out of the team as they have all done well for Ireland, but that's what I have to try and do," he said.

"I played twice at left back for Celtic but centre half is where I see myself, and getting in there with Ireland is the next aim.

"A lot of us in the squad now have played together since schoolboy football, we all know each other well. The lads who've been in the squad for years are only getting better so we don't really have anyone who is coming to the end of their international careers.

"The senior players are as good as they ever were, maybe even better, so it's hard for the younger lads to break in. It's a massive task to get into the Ireland team now, but with injuries we may have a chance."

It was a grim weekend for O'Dea as he watched Dundee United win the Scottish Cup on Saturday, with many wondering just how Ross County got to the final at Celtic's expense, and that seemed to sum up a miserable season for the Bhoys.

"It's been a very poor season from a trophies point of view," he said. "It was a case of transition, I suppose. Tony Mowbray came in and a lot of players left; we had a lot of changes.

"The way we finished the season was no coincidence, the players had been playing together for a longer period and Neil Lennon deserves a lot of credit for how well we finished, hopefully that bodes well for next season," added O'Dea, who spent the first half of the season on loan to Reading but then played a major role for Celtic in the second part.

"There is pressure on us to do better next season and, as players, we have to meet that. Anyone at Celtic who isn't up to that challenge should leave now.

"At Celtic you are under pressure in every game. We have come up short in the season just gone, so we need to do better. Two years without the league is two years too long so we need to do better.


"I would like to see Neil Lennon get the job long-term, and on his performance with the club when he took over as caretaker, he deserves to get the job. It's a massive decision for the board to make. They want to make the right call and I hope they go for Neil.

"I played with Neil and played under him when he was manager, the year I broke into the first team at Celtic he was captain and he was a massive influence on me, a big help.

"I was the youngest player in the team, he was the oldest player but he was great for me, he was a real role model as a player and he's been a superb manager for Celtic," continued O'Dea, who was happy with his own form at the end of the campaign.

"It's been a long time coming where I was playing week in, week out and I finally had at the end of the season," he said. "The longer the season went on the stronger I got as a player, in a way I didn't want the season to end and I won't sit still for the summer.

"I can't wait to get back and start playing again, keep my place in the team and play for Celtic every week.

"It hurts that we didn't win the league. If we had won the title maybe I'd have wanted to go off celebrating and take a holiday for a month.

"But it's hard to sit still when you know you've come up short, and we have to make sure that doesn't happen again next season."