Friday 15 December 2017

O'Neill waiting for Ireland's call

Ireland boss Martin O'Neill, pictured, has warned midfielder Stephen Ireland he will not chase him forever
Ireland boss Martin O'Neill, pictured, has warned midfielder Stephen Ireland he will not chase him forever

Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has warned Stephen Ireland he will not chase him forever as he contemplates a return to the international fold.

The 27-year-old Stoke midfielder has not represented his country since 2007, when he left the squad claiming that first one, and then his other, grandmother had died. Neither had.

Successive managers - most notably Steve Staunton and Giovanni Trapattoni - have previously indicated an interest in welcoming Ireland back to the squad, but neither they nor O'Neill have succeeded to date.

The Ulsterman named a 29-man party for the end-of-season friendlies against Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal on Tuesday which did not include the player, and later explained the background.

O'Neill told the Irish Independent: "I had a meeting with a couple of the Stoke City players a few weeks ago, but deliberately didn't want to speak to Stephen in that group.

"I wanted to have that type of conversation with him on a one-on-one basis, so I called him to get something organised. There was no answer, which was fine because I'm not always immediately responsive myself to phone calls.

"At the same time, we had the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) trying to make contact also. No answer came. Then his agent called (senior administrator) Mary (O'Brien) to say that Stephen would like to be considered, but would like a conversation with me some time in July.

"Following on from what (Stoke boss) Mark Hughes had said in a newspaper interview, I thought it was very obvious then that Stephen didn't want to be involved in these games - and look, if he's not going to be available this summer, then that's fine with me.

"But what I'm saying is that if he wants to get involved with us down the line, then he needs to know that I'm not going to continue chasing.

"If he phones me some time in July, of course I'll speak to him then. But he has to make the call - not me. It really is as simple as that."

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