WOLVES boss Mick McCarthy has told Ireland hopeful Stephen Ward not to get downhearted over his exclusion from the Ireland squad.
Giovanni Trapattoni caused some raised eyebrows on both sides of the Irish Sea when he picked his 23-man squad for the March 2 friendly with Brazil in London, with teenager Greg Cunningham (Manchester City) selected to compete with Kevin Kilbane for the left-back role ahead of Ward, even though Ward has made 15 appearances for Premier League side Wolves this season while Cunningham has managed just 45 minutes of first-team action for the Eastlands club.
McCarthy, who was of course slammed for some of his squad selections as Ireland manager, stopped short of criticising Trapattoni but told Ward to keep doing what he's doing for Wolves.
"Trapattoni picks the squad," said McCarthy.
"If Stephen Ward is playing well for me in the Premier League, which he is, then it's up to the manager of the national team to decide to pick him, not me.
"All Wardy can do is what he's doing for me. I have sympathy and empathy for the managers because it's always the players not in the squad who make the controversial story, never the ones in the squad.
"It's like that here -- Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was in the team for 16 games, and the first time he's not I get asked about it.
"It also becomes a controversial story when former Ireland manager McCarthy says 'blah-di-blah' about a Trap's recent decision.
"So I don't say anything because, do you know what? If anyone says anything to me about my squad, I tell them where to go.
"No one else picks my team and I have no intention of trying to pick anyone else's. Wardy has to stay in the first team here, because if he doesn't, he has no chance of being picked."
Trapattoni explained his decision to omit Ward by stating that he had already seen the Wolves man up close -- Ward was in the Ireland B squad last year when they played Nottingham Forest -- while the Brazil game will be the Italian's first chance to see Cunningham in the flesh.
Team-mates from that Ireland B squad such as Keiren Westwood, Kevin Foley, Darren O'Dea, Eddie Nolan, Keith Andrews and Caleb Folan have since progressed to the full squad and won senior caps, while Joe Murphy, Darron Gibson, Martin Rowlands, Andy Keogh, Shane Long and Anthony Stokes have also been in the senior squad since then.
The left back slot is a concern for Trapattoni. Kilbane has been the holder of the No3 shirt for some time -- the Hull man famously having started every competitive Ireland game since 1999 -- but due to his age (32) and the lack of first team football (just seven starts for Hull this season) the position is a worry.
Eddie Nolan and Damien Delaney have been tried out at left-back in friendlies but they have not played in a competitive game.