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Pearce eyes Trap's call

HE MAY be a new recruit to the cause, but Reading defender -- and Ireland hopeful -- Alex Pearce wants to make one thing clear. He's not jumping on the Irish bandwagon, he was on it a long time ago.

"Most people seem to know that I played U21 football for Scotland, but people don't know that Ireland was the first country I played for," Pearce told the Herald.

"I was called up by the Republic way back in my career and I played in an U14 game in a tournament, I think it was up in Derry. Anthony Stokes and Eddie Nolan were in the side, they're the two main ones I remember from the Irish team that day.

"So even though I was born in England and played for Scotland's U21s, I always had a strong Irish connection, the Irish link has always been there -- my dad's mother was from Dublin, though sadly she's no longer with us as she passed away a few years ago.

"But I always hoped that some day I could achieve two things: play in the Premier League and play for Ireland at senior level."

The 23-year-old already has one of those aims almost in his grasp, as Pearce will -- barring a calamity -- be playing in England's top flight next term, as he was a key player -- voted the club's player of the year -- for Reading as they won the Championship title and automatic promotion.

Celebrations are still ongoing and the Reading squad have only just returned from a well-earned club holiday in Spain, all part of the "team bonding" which, Pearce says, has made the Royals such a tight group.

Next up is an international call-up. The Euro 2012 finals will go ahead without his involvement, but by the time the World Cup campaign kicks off in Kazakhstan in September, Pearce hopes to be part of it.

"It's a big ask to break into that squad because there's so much competition but I hope I can do it," says Pearce.

"It's always been my dream to play for Ireland. I got that cap at U14 level and then nothing happened for a few years. Then I got the call to play for Scotland and I did, once, at U21 level, but it was always in the back of my mind that Ireland would always be my choice.

"Thankfully I have everything sorted in terms of the paperwork -- I have my Irish passport -- and hopefully now I can get a call-up at some stage.

"All I need to do is to catch the eye of the Ireland manager and show him what I can do and hopefully being in the Premier League next season will help.

"I haven't had a direct approach from Trapattoni or the FAI yet but I have spoken to people who are involved indirectly so I think the manager knows who I am.

"The squad have done really well to qualify for the Euros, I won't get to Poland in the summer but I'll be supporting the team on TV, I'd love to see them do well and then, hopefully, try to be a part of things for the World Cup qualifiers after the summer."

Elevation to the national team squad is certainly achievable for players like Pearce -- three years ago Sean St Ledger was just an uncapped player in the Championship, now he's almost certain to start in defence for Ireland at the European Championship finals.

And central defence is a position that could be up for grabs in the autumn, especially if Richard Dunne opts for international retirement.

So what could Pearce bring to the party? "I think I have good leadership qualities," he says.

"I am a good solid defender, I win a lot of balls in the air and my distribution on the ground is pretty good, so I think I have enough about me to add to the squad. I have a lot of experience at club level and I had a good season, personally as well as with the club, in the season just gone so I feel I can contribute. I'd sell myself as a good all-round centre half.

"I know it can be done, the Ireland manager has shown with people like Sean St Ledger that he will pick players if they are good enough, no matter what level they play at or what experience they have and I feel I can do the same, and maybe I have more of a chance that I'll move up to the Premier League from the Championship next season.

"All you can hope for is a chance, so that if you don't take that opportunity then it's your own fault, but I feel that if I get a chance with the Ireland squad I won't let anyone down."

The season just gone was Pearce's sixth with Reading but he's had to be patient in his progress, and spent time on loan to toughen himself up, going to clubs like Northampton and Bournemouth to get games.

"I have worked my way up, I played in the lower leagues on loan so I have come up the hard way," he says.

"I think that's why the reward of playing in places like Anfield and Old Trafford in the Premier League next season will be even better.

"We're really looking forward to the Premier League now, you see clubs like Norwich and Swansea go up and do well in that division after going up from the Championship. We'll go into the Premier League with no fear.

"Playing Premier League football will be great exposure for me and if I can just get the call from Ireland, I don't think anything could top that."