Monday 19 March 2018

Ireland blames himself but he's not for turning


Stephen Ireland has said his continued exile from the Irish team is "nobody's fault but my own" -- however, he is unlikely to change his mind about his early international retirement.

Despite describing his first meeting with Giovanni Trapattoni as "bizarre" and saying he would have found it easier to return if Steve Staunton was still in charge, Ireland accepted much of the blame for the manner of his exit.

"It's not Trapattoni's fault. It's no one's fault but my own. If I want to go back, he told me the door was open but I guess I'll take the blame on that."

Ireland, who is expected to make his Aston Villa debut against Newcastle today, also once again criticised the FAI for their handling of players from outside Dublin.

"I never had a problem with the game. I loved the buzz around the games, seeing all the fans on the bus, that kind of thing. It was the nine days, ten days before the game I didn't enjoy. I only played six games but after my first game I knew it wasn't for me. I knew I couldn't deal with it.

"I think it was all down to the treatment I got as a kid. The FAI never looked after the lads outside of Dublin. Even now, I was looking at the squads underage now and I think 98 per cent of them are from Dublin. It was exactly the same way when I was growing up. We didn't get looked after."

During his unveiling as an Aston Villa player on Friday, Ireland said he was "always open to a conversation" with the FAI but in a more detailed discussion about his international situation with Sunday newspapers later in the day, he said it was "out of my hands, my decision has already been made".

He said he regretted the way his international career ended and talked about the death threats he had received in the wake of claiming that one grandmother was dead, then saying it was the other one, before both were revealed to be alive and well.

"Yes, it was a difficult time for me and my family. We had a lot of hate mail at the time, a lot of bad press, part of that was my own fault of course. That's the reason why I did that Superman boxers thing, just to say I'm not that bothered. A few people helped me out. It would have been easier for me to go back with Ireland if Kevin [MacDonald, his new manager at Villa] and Steve Staunton were still there as coach and manager." He had, he added, "nothing against Trapattoni whatsoever" but joked, after his exit from Manchester City and his complaints about Roberto Mancini that "I haven't really been getting on well with Italians recently".

Ireland believes that his future lies in club football -- "I'd rather win the Premier League than the World Cup" -- and is determined after a disappointing final year at City to rediscover his form at his new club.

"I know now I have to have four or five years at the top of my game. I really have to flourish. I want to retire with no regrets, with no effing and blinding. The least I can do now is put my body on the line, week in, week out."

Trapattoni will see Ireland play next Sunday when he travels to Villa Park to watch the home side play Everton.

See Page 5

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