Tuesday 25 June 2019

Focused Clark insists Irish squad's bond remains as strong as ever

Ciaran Clark will allow Rice to make his decision and would welcome him back. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ciaran Clark will allow Rice to make his decision and would welcome him back. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Whether it was James McClean's characteristically explosive tweet about Declan Rice or Roy Keane's vituperative volley in a now infamous May rumble, the Irish squad can hardly be accused of not expressing their opinions.

Not that all the players are so loquacious.

It seems surprising that despite the absence of two prominent players from the Irish squad this week, Ciaran Clark, for one, has not spoken to either of them since they declared their intentions.

"We have to concentrate on these two games," he tells us several times, ensuring that if the Irish sports public weren't aware that the eagerly anticipated Nations League begins this week, then they are now.

Clark will allow Rice to make his decision and would welcome him back.

"He knows what it's like. He knows the set-up. He enjoyed his time here. He knows everything about us, he has played brilliantly a couple of times.

"For me, I settled into it quite quickly when I came into the Ireland squad. It didn't take long to make the decision.

"Like I said, it's up to him now and we're not thinking about that at all. We can't. That's all off-field stuff now, it's not our focus. It all came out of the blue. It's down to him now, it's his decision, we need to focus on this game. It's hard enough for us as players, we'll let other people deal with that."

Arter's absence may not be as keenly felt in some people's eyes - O'Neill reminded us he was not an automatic starter - but Clark doesn't reckon his exile reflects on the much-touted unity of the squad.

"No, no, the group is tight. I haven't spoken to him either. Maybe it's personal reasons, I don't know.

"We'd love him to be here but it's one of those things - he's not. We'll concentrate on the game now, we've a few days' training."

Clark was injured last May when the altercation between Keane and the two Irish players - Jon Walters and Arter - took place.

Ironically, given the absence of both Walters and Arter from the squad this week, Clark will have a chance to re-assert himself in the Irish defence.

"It is an opportunity for everyone," he stresses.

"Wales is a very important match for us in terms of qualifying for the next Euros, as is the second friendly.

"We will focus on the first game first. We've come up against a lot of their players before. We played them recently and that was a very tough game."

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