Tuesday 20 March 2018

Ireland stopper Rob Elliot over Euros heartbreak as he targets October return

Republic of Ireland's Rob Elliott. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Rob Elliott. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The last time Rob Elliot was in Ireland he left in tears. The goalkeeper had just seen his Euros dream dashed by a season-ending knee injury picked up in the friendly against Slovakia but this week in Carton House, he returned to the training pitch.

Newcastle United have spent the last week in the Kildare base as part of their pre-season programme that includes a friendly against Bohs this afternoon.

He may only be doing very light work on the pitch but the fact that Rafa Benitez even brought him to Ireland speaks volumes for how highly he rates the shot-stopper.

Watching Ireland’s European campaign wasn’t the easiest experience, especially for someone who would have been pushing close for a place in the starting XI, but like the rest of the country, he was caught up in the emotion of that night in Lille.

“I went mental,” he smiled. “I probably shouldn’t have gone as mental as I did. I got jumped on from behind in the front and still have bruised on my calf from the seats where we fell over! You don’t see us win very often against Italy.

“It was an amazing experience and it would have been brilliant to be there as part of the squad, but it was probably the second best way and I had an amazing two days.”

Being amongst the Irish supporters gave Elliot (right) an appreciation of just how much it means to the country and he even managed to unnoticed in the midst of the euphoria.

“I had face paint on and was probably a bit tipsy,” he alughed. “They were brilliant. All the fans I saw were brilliant.”

While he was in France, Elliot’s communication with the squad was understandably minimal but he did speak regularly to his old friend Darren Randolph.

Knowing that it could have been him and not Randolph starting for Martin O’Neill’s side was mentally tough but there is absolutely no sense of resentment on Elliot’s part.

“Everyone who was there deserved to be there and while it was bad what happened, I just wanted to go as a fan with my friends and it was great,” the 30-year old said.

“It hasn’t probably affected me as much as I thought it would as I’ve had so much progress with the injury.

“I got an infection and was in hospital for a few days, so that was probably the worst time and that was tough because I was watching the start of the Euros for that. I was supposed to go to the Sweden game but I had to miss that.

“It’s quite a cliché now for footballers coming back from injury to say they’re feeling stronger but in my case, with the tendon being repaired, I could barely kick a ball towards the end of last season, getting it to the halfway line only.

“My kicking has always been one of my strengths, the accuracy, and I lost a bit of that. I’m hoping with the work I do in the gym on my thigh and knee that I’ll come back stronger and feel 100pc as I haven’t been 100pc for a year or two.”

Elliot hopes to return to action in October as he looks to help get Newcastle back to the top flight. He knows that he faces stiff competition to get his place in the side back but Benitez clearly rates him highly. “To be here and on the pitch is very good because as a player you want to be on the pitch and as a keeper you want to have a feel of the ball and be around the posts. It is very, very positive,” his manager said.

“Here, people that he knows, fans who know him really well it was very positive for him. You can see every day he progresses more.”

Elliot will miss the opening of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign but he already has his sights on his return.

“I think my reputation is definitely a lot better than it was 12 months ago, but all I can do is try to get more opportunities to play and try and improve on it,” he added.

“Obviously the international thing will probably come with the club. I think I just have to prove myself again and hope to get back involved.

“I’ve just got to get my head down and get ready for Newcastle. If you do well for your club, hopefully it will follow for your country.”

Bohemians host Newcastle United in a friendly at Dalymount Park today and tickets are still on sale.

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