STEPHEN IRELAND might be out of the picture but Steven Reid is determined to get himself back into the World Cup frame.
That’s according to someone who could accurately be described as a well-placed source – Reid’s Blackburn Rovers and Ireland colleague Keith Andrews.
After a year on the sidelines recovering from a serious knee injury, Reid might have limped off with a hamstring problem in a Carling Cup comeback game against Gillingham last week, but his good friend insists it’s not a fresh cause for alarm.
“It’s nothing major, it’s not actually anything directly linked to the injury he was out with,” says Andrews. “He played 45 minutes and it happened on the stroke of half-time. He felt something and just to be safe they took him off. As far as I’m aware, it’s nothing serious and it’s good to see him back playing. He has worked extremely hard over the last year to get back to where he is. He looked very good, although he played right-back last week which is the graveyard shift in our place (laughs).”
Encouragingly, Andrews also believes it’s a realistic prospect that Reid could yet play a part in Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
“Oh yeah, without a doubt. We speak about it all the time. First and foremost, he needs to get back playing for Blackburn. But his focus is certainly on us qualifying for the World Cup and getting back in the squad. A fit Steven is obviously someone you would want in the squad.”
As a late-comer to international football, Keith Andrews doesn’t need any reminding of the irony of the situation – the very man whose comeback he is rooting for could directly threaten his own hard-won place in Trapattoni’s first 11.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he acknowledges. “But it’s just the respect I have for him. He is one of my best mates at the club. After seeing what he has been through for the last year, I really am itching for him to get back in the squad.”
Although Andrews will be expected to start against Cyprus on Saturday, the fact that he has won just seven caps means he is not inclined to take anything for granted. It probably also explains why he even admits to disappointment at not getting a start in last month’s forgettable friendly against Australia.
“I want to play every game for Ireland so to be left out was disappointing,” he says. “The manager did say to me before the game that I would be coming on at some stage so it was still good to get another cap but, yeah, it’s not nice to be on the bench when you have been starting regularly.”
With Stephen Ireland remaining in exile and Steven Reid yet to return, the most immediate threat to Andrews’ Irish position is coming from Manchester United’s Darron Gibson – the player who got the first nod against Australia – but the Blackburn man is single-minded in his determination to retain his place.
“I don’t care about any other individuals,” he says. “It’s me I’m worried about. It’s my performances at club level and here when I come in and am training. That’s all I can affect, I can’t really affect what other people do or don’t do.” How much better does the 28-year-old think he can become?
“I feel I’ve improved most years, from year to year. This year I don’t think it will be any different. I feel a lot more comfortable at (Premiership) level. I feel like I’ve settled a lot more at the club. I’ve been there a year. I feel fitter and sharper. Hopefully I can take that into games.”
IT’S A measure of Andrews’ sudden, if belated, acceleration from League 2 football to World Cup qualifiers, that he was very far removed from the scene of the crime the last time Ireland played in Nicosia.
“I watched it at home with my family,” he recalls. “It was very disappointing, it wasn’t great viewing. It was a very bad day in Irish football history. Although that is in the back of our minds, this game is about where we are in the group now and getting the right result. Will it be a motivation? I’d say possibly. It’s already been mentioned. Make no bones about it, it’s a tough place to go, the pitch is probably not going to be the best and the conditions are going to be very humid and warm, so it’s really going to have to be a solid team performance to get us the right result.”
And by right result, he means more than another draw on the road.
“If we win on Saturday, we’ve got a fantastic chance of winning the group, especially with Italy coming to our place next month. They haven’t got an easy run-in, they’ve got Georgia on Saturday in Georgia which won’t be easy and they play a very talented Bulgarian side as well. Come Saturday we will know a lot more about where we stand in the group. But the belief in the camp is that if we win the game it gives us a great chance. If we win on Saturday, regardless of other results, we’re more or less there in terms of the play-off position so to a certain degree we can really go for it against Italy.”
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