New Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton has exonerated Stephen Ireland of any blame after an U21 mix-up this week by including the rising teenage star in his brave new world.
Manchester City midfielder Ireland is part of a 23-man squad to face Sweden in a friendly at Lansdowne Road on March 1, Staunton’s first since taking charge of the team.
That will undoubtedly come as a relief to Ireland, who feared he may have thrown his budding international career into jeopardy following a situation that failed to endear him to U21 coach Don Givens.
Givens was apparently waiting for Ireland at Heathrow on Monday with a ticket for the 19-year-old, who had been named in the squad for this week’s Madeira International Tournament.
However, Ireland – who had been given special dispensation by City boss Stuart Pearce to play in the opening game only – made Givens aware he would not be travelling due to a groin injury at the very last moment.
Ireland has since issued profuse apologies, claiming the whole saga was “a mess” and hoping his chances of a further call up had not been harmed.
That has clearly been enough for Staunton, who has plumped for youth with his maiden squad as – alongside Ireland – he has included Joey O’Brien of Bolton, who turns 20 tomorrow; Tottenham’s Stephen Kelly, Kevin Doyle of Reading, Brighton goalkeeper Wayne Henderson, who are all 22; and 24-year-old Liam Lawrence of Sunderland.
When quizzed, Staunton suggested Ireland was negligent, but has not held that against him.
“It is something for Don to look at,” said Staunton.
“From his aspect, one phone call and it would have been solved, but it was a misunderstanding.
“I’ve no problems with it. It was a genuine mistake. But he wants to play and that’s good enough for me.
“He will obviously have dips in form, but when he is doing really well he has talent.
“He has done very well at Manchester City this season. He has held his own when he has played, so I’ve no fears or qualms about playing him.
“Playing international football will benefit him, as it does with any player.
“It’s another step up the ladder, and it improves you because you are playing with the best of the best.”
After the retirements at the conclusion of the World Cup qualifying campaign last October, which led to Brian Kerr’s departure, Staunton has long felt his best option would be to pursue youth.
“This has been a while coming, but I think we have a nice blend of experience, youth and new faces,” added Staunton.
“I’ve said from day one this is what we have to look at. We have two friendly matches before the European Championships start, so it has to be done sooner rather than later.
“It’s always been said, if you’re old enough you are good enough.”
Staunton declined to make known his captain as successor to Kenny Cunningham, one of those who retired. However, he revealed Stephen Carr was almost certain to return.
Newcastle defender Carr was one of those who called it a day a few months ago, but it appears he has had a change of heart.
Although out with a groin injury at present, Staunton revealed: “I went to see Newcastle at the weekend, but he is still not back.
“He has had a few problems this season, so he needs to be back playing, but we are keeping an eye on the situation.
“We have been in contact with him, and it’s very positive.”
Other notable absentees through injury include wingers Andy Reid and Aiden McGeady of Spurs and Celtic respectively, along with Ipswich striker Alan Lee, while Norwich defender Gary Doherty has been overlooked on this occasion.