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Townsend brings Irish career to a well-timed close

AT Loftus Road on Wednesday night Mick McCarthy asked Andy Townsend was he convinced about his decision to retire. Townsend didn't hesitate. ``Yes, I'm sure,'' he replied.

Nine years since his international debut, six years since he led Ireland for the first of 40 games, Andrew David Townsend has formally called time on his international career.

As a fierce tackler, Townsend's timing was always one of his strengths and his decision to stand down from the Irish fold five months shy of his 35th birthday is all about the right timing too coming five days before McCarthy's squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic is announced.

On his current club form at Middlesbrough, Townsend could expect to figure in McCarthy's plan for the early part of the Euro 2000 campaign in the Autumn but by stopping now, he bows out on a high note.

Had Townsend soldiered on, it might have been in a peripheral role he would not have featured in the squad for the Czech game, for instance and he was never one for that, always preferring to be at the front-line.

Townsend was persuaded by McCarthy to stay on as captain before last Autumn's World Cup programme but later went public about his intention to retire if Ireland failed to beat Belgium in the play-offs. After the defeat in Brussels, McCarthy urged Townsend, along with fellow veterans Tony Cascarino and Ray Houghton, to hold fire on a snap retirement.

With another international season about to kick off, it was decision time for the trio and while Houghton and Cascarino have told McCarthy they will continue to be available, Townsend has drawn a line in the sand.

``I could plug away but my gut feeling is that it's the right time to go,'' he said. ``Mick has a glut of young lads hammering on the door at the moment and no useful purpose would be served if I was to hang around.

``It's sad to retire from something I've enjoyed so much but the time feels right,'' said Townsend.

The son of a pro footballer, Don, Townsend leaves an impressive legacy, as a player and captain. One of five players to start all nine games in two World Cup finals ('90 and '94), he led Ireland out more often in World Cup competition (24 times) than anyone else, and to the most wins (19).

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Although McCarthy assumed the sobriquet `Captain Fantastic,' it was Townsend who was captain most often, 27 times, under Charlton.

His proudest moment as captain was leading Ireland to victory over Italy in the Giants Stadium in '94 while he rated his performance away to Poland in the Euro '92 qualifiers as his best game it featured one of his seven international goals.

``He's been a good character and a good leader and he contributed as much as any person in the last ten years,'' said McCarthy. ``We haven't got that many midfield players and he'll be hard to replace.''

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