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Fit-again Andrews thrilled to get game time after 'horrible season'

On a day dominated by no-shows, it was perhaps fitting that Keith Andrews and Kevin Foley were trotted out to face the press. The commitment of this duo could never be questioned.

Foley has travelled all around the world to sit on the bench or even sometimes in the stand, patiently waiting for the competitive opportunity that came his way in March's victory over Macedonia.

After celebrating avoiding the drop with Wolves on Sunday, his immediately priority was to make it over for tonight's Carling Nations Cup tie with Northern Ireland at the Aviva.

Andrews arrived in Dublin this week halfway through a six-month course of heavy-duty antibiotics after a season marred by injury, where the scariest part was when he sat on his couch earlier this year and felt a sudden onset of pain that prevented his legs from moving.

The Blackburn man was struck down by the flaring up of an infection which had lain dormant after a groin operation in the autumn. A medical conference to discuss that seizure involved medics at Blackburn and Ireland, with the pelvic injury suffered by Irish rugby icon Paul O'Connell cited as a comparison.

"I couldn't move my legs or move anywhere around my pelvis," said Andrews, recalling a terrifying afternoon on the couch. "I'm three months through a course of antibiotics now. It wasn't nice at the time."

After missing almost an entire campaign with the groin complaint and then coming back on stream in the dying weeks of a relegation battle, Andrews has been restricted to a few sub outings and reserve game activity.

So, he needs the game tonight and is aware that Paul Green's long-term problems and Darron Gibson's short-term club commitments have opened a window of opportunity for Skopje. Resting was never an option.

A latecomer to the international scene, he appreciates every chance.

"It's been a horrible season for me," he said. "I know I'd certainly be turning up for every trip I'm picked for. It's always an honour."

Foley took a similar view. Looking for a break after escaping relegation with Wolves was the last thing on his mind.

"There have been times when I've been frustrated (on the bench) but I've got ambitions to play at the World Cup or major tournament and not turning up for a squad, well, I could probably kiss that goodbye. You don't get too many chances," said Foley.

The versatile performer will partner Andrews in the centre of the midfield tonight if Keith Fahey is unfit to take his place.

Recent recruit Simon Cox will make his debut up front alongside Robbie Keane, while Keith Treacy and Marc Wilson make their first starts -- the latter will operate at left-back against the country where he was born.

Richard Dunne pulled out on Sunday with an Achilles problem and Sean St Ledger and Darren O'Dea are both rested as they are carrying injuries and are needed for Macedonia.

Stephen Kelly and Damien Delaney form an unlikely central defensive pairing, with Paul McShane at right-back, with a late call set to be made on whether Seamus Coleman or Liam Lawrence raids the right flank.

Rep of Ireland v Northern Ireland,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Irish Independent