Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Clark insists declaring for Ireland the right decision

DION FANNING

UNTIL he names his side for Tuesday's glorified friendly (and it's not much glory), many will be sceptical about Giovanni Trapattoni's commitment to change.

By leaving men like Kevin Kilbane out of his final squad, Ireland's manager may be forcing his own hand and the chance to see Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark may boost interest in a game that needs all the help it can get.

Trapattoni's strange games with McCarthy and his selection are not uncharacteristic, but the Wigan midfielder must play in this game, especially after yesterday's double.

Coleman, who was overlooked remarkably for the Norway friendly, and Clark seem more assured of their places. Coleman, of course, is the romantic story and his sense of adventure for Everton has excited many. His progress under Trapattoni, who has never put much emphasis on a sense of adventure, will be fascinating.

Clark is a different story. He could start at left-back on Tuesday, especially with Kilbane left out. He has benefited from Gerard Houllier's desire to have a physical presence across his backline but he has also played in midfield this season.

"I've enjoyed it," Clark said last week. "It's a bit different for me, but I'm just happy to be playing and being part of it. I do see myself as a centre-half, but if the team need me to play left-back or anywhere else, I'll happily fill in."

Houllier and Trapattoni share many beliefs about the game and he may find that left-back is where he will play for Ireland.

Clark's involvement was a coup. He has captained England at underage level but he says this was just part of his career progression.

"I was just playing away for Villa and they came in and, at that time, I thought it was great. I went along with it, kept going and Ireland didn't really come in at the time, I didn't have any contact with them so I didn't have to make a decision back then. Now the time has come and I have made my decision.'

His mother is from Leitrim and his father's family comes from Donegal. He was born in Harrow but summers were spent in Drumshanbo and Donegal. On Tuesday, Leitrim and Donegal will come to Dublin.

His selection owes a lot to Richard Dunne who was talking to Clark's mother Peggy after a pre-season friendly against Valencia, noticed her accent and pursued it with Clark.

"He didn't try and pressure me or anything, he just asked me would I be interested in playing for Ireland, and I said I would be more than interested. He knew some of the coaches at Ireland, so he put the word in and since then it's just been moving forward."

On Tuesday, there will be another massive step and he will hope to be alongside Dunne, who has demonstrated to Houllier how vital he is.

"He's a great leader, just a player who I think everyone at the club looks up to, especially me as a young lad. It's just great being part of it now with him. I've learnt a lot from him and I'm just hoping to learn a lot more from him now."

Houllier is allowing a number of young players to come through at Villa. Clark was captain of the side, which included Barry Bannan, that won the Academy League three years ago but he feels that now, at 21, he has the physical strength to play in the Premier League.

He has the commitment to play for Ireland and his family have it too. "I think they love the decision I have made and I'm sure they would have loved me to play for Ireland when I was a lot younger, but the time has come and I've made my decision, and I think they're so proud of my decision in the end."

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