Pilkington defends his decision to withdraw
ANTHONY PILKINGTON'S reputation as a reluctant Irishman gathered more weight yesterday as the winger put Norwich's pre-season and his honeymoon first and pulled out of the international squad for the fourth time.
It will be fascinating to see how Giovanni Trapattoni receives this latest abstention after the English-born 24-year-old, who is due to get married in between Ireland's clashes with England and Georgia, opted out of the summer games.
That's despite playing a part in the Canaries' survival bid and scoring in Sunday's win over Manchester City.
However, his season has been hampered by a hamstring injury that is linked to a knee problem, and he has decided to rest to be ready for next season.
The former U-21 international spent a long time deliberating on his international future before committing to the country of his grandmother at senior level. Once he did, the FAI circulated pictures of the player posing in an Ireland shirt, holding an Irish passport aloft.
However, he has yet to report for duty despite being called up four times.
The latest opt-out will come as a blow for the Ireland boss who had earmarked a specific role for Pilkington, a player Trapattoni has travelled to England to watch in recent weeks and has spoken of in glowing terms.
And his club's decision to pull him out to allow him to rest so he could be right for pre-season is unlikely to endear him to the Italian, who values these end-of-season get-togethers highly. He has exiled a number of players who failed to report in the past.
"The management and the physio have pulled me out," Pilkington said. "I've been struggling with my knee, so I need to get treatment through the summer and an extra four games is not going to help me through pre-season.
"I need a rest and I need the treatment that I'm going to be getting through the summer in the off season, so hopefully I can put that behind me and come back pre-season 100pc fit.
"It's unfortunate these injuries have popped up at the worst times for me," he added. "But, like I say, I've got to put that behind me now, get right for next season and then hopefully see if I can get back in the squad. It wouldn't be right for me to go away and then come back in pre-season struggling.
"I've had to manage the injury (to his patellar tendon) towards the end of the season and, because of my knee, I've picked up a few hamstring injuries. So I'll go away in the summer, work hard, get 100pc fit and come back flying."
Pilkington has long been on Trapattoni's radar and was first selected for an extended squad for the friendly against Serbia in August, only for a hamstring injury to rule him out.
He pulled out of the panel to play Poland in February with the same injury, while he was again named for the squad to face Sweden and Austria but a recurrence of that injury forced him out again.
The Italian manager wants him to be at the vanguard of a 4-5-1 formation, and hoped the friendlies against England, Georgia and Spain would provide that opportunity.
However, that has now been lost and his next potential involvement will come when Ireland take on Wales in Cardiff in August ahead of the decisive qualifiers against Sweden and Austria a month later.
With the home game against the Faroes coming on June 7 in between friendlies with England (May 29), Georgia (June 2) and Spain (June 11), this was a chance for him to establish himself in the squad.
That Pilkington is to get married at the end of the month further complicates the issue, even though he says his fiancee, Joleen, would have supported him if he had gone into the international set-up. "She will always support me whatever I do," he said. "But she's happy that she gets to go away."
We must wait to see whether Trapattoni – who played in a cup semi-final four days after his own wedding – is as understanding.