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Years of pain over for Dixon

TERRY DIXON got the answer to his prayers as he is in line to end his three-year exile from football in Dublin next month, after getting the nod to link up with the Ireland U21 squad.

Dixon received a major boost yesterday when Don Givens named him in the U21 squad for a European Championship qualifier against Armenia in Tallaght Stadium on March 3. Ireland are currently bottom of the table in Group 2 with four points from six games and need a win to go above Armenia in the table.

Dixon, who was named in the senior Ireland squad by Steve Staunton when he was only 16, is still battling his way back from a career-threatening knee injury and has yet to play a senior game for West Ham, so his last game of any consequence was for the Irish U21s against Belgium way back in September 2006.

"I was gobsmacked when I heard I was in. I had a few tears in my eyes as it was an emotional moment for me; I haven't been in a squad for three years," former Tottenham man Dixon said.

"When I was out injured, I asked God if I could just play one game, for either Ireland or for West Ham, and now I have that chance. I have played eight games for the West Ham reserves and the chance to play for Ireland is a dream come true.

"I haven't played at West Ham as much as I'd have liked. I was out for a long time and I still haven't hit top fitness. But I am still working towards that and playing for the Ireland U21s is a big bonus. I didn't expect it, to be honest."

Dixon made headlines across Europe when the 16-year-old was plucked from obscurity -- he hadn't even played a reserve game for Spurs at the time -- by Steve Staunton and put into the senior squad for a training camp in Portugal and a friendly against Chile at Lansdowne Road.

At the time, Dixon was being described as the "next Wayne Rooney" and Staunton called the striker -- who qualified for Ireland through his Cavan-born mother -- into the seniors to prevent the English FA from nabbing him.

Dixon didn't get to play for the senior side and, after one appearance for the U21s later that year, his career was almost finished by a knee injury, causing Tottenham to release him in February 2008. West Ham took a gamble on the player after a long period of rehab and Dixon is now making his way back to full fitness in the Hammers' reserves.

"It was strange to be in the senior squad that time, but back then I felt like I could do anything. I felt that I could get past anyone or do anything, but since then I have matured a lot, I had a lot of injuries, I know what I can and can't do," he added.

"It's been hard. I have had four knee operations since the age of 14, I had two dislocated knees and my last operation was about 14 months ago.

"It was difficult for me when I was released by Spurs two years ago; I had been there 10 years. They told me I would never play again but I had nothing to fall back on, I had to play football, and now here I am in the U21 squad.

"The physio team at West Ham have worked on me day in, day out and it has paid off. I am still a bit away from full fitness, I have only trained with the senior team a few times and I am not fit enough to play in the Premier League now, so the Armenia game is a good chance for me to improve my fitness."

Givens has named an 18-man squad for the wooden spoon clash with the Armenians, Ireland hoping to end a run of six games without a win.

Premier League trio Seamus Coleman (Everton), Kevin Long (Burnley) and David Meyler (Sunderland), who all played League of Ireland football before moving to England, will be among the main attractions in the Irish squad while Dubliner Ian Daly, currently impressing with Greek club Aris Thessaloniki, is hoping for his U21 debut.

IRELAND U21 SQUAD: Redmond (Darlington), McKeown (Peterborough); Coleman (Everton), Long (Burnley), Morris (Newcastle), Oyebanjo (Histon), Dennehy (Gillingham), Hughton (Lincoln); Meyler (Sunderland), Conneely (Galway), Garvan (Ipswich), Davies (Reading), Clifford (Chelsea), Judge (Plymouth); Sheridan (St Johnstone), Daly (Aris), Scannell (Crystal Palace), Dixon (West Ham).