In the name of the father

PAUL MCSHANE will captain the Irish team against Italy in Liege tonight, making it a doubly emotional couple of days for the Wicklow boy.

On Sunday, McShane was one of 13 squad members who took part in a golf tournament at Druid’s Glen named in honour of his father Sean, a former inter-county hurler for Dublin, who passed away last March aged 65. The event was also a charity fundraiser in aid of the autism centre at St Joseph’s school in Newtownmountkennedy.

Said McShane: “My dad was a major influence in my life and since I was very young, he went to every game and he was always there for me. And hopefully he will there looking down on me when I lead the team out against Italy. I am sure he would have been very proud.”

And then, laughing, he added: “But he probably got more of a buzz over the Dubs win on Sunday.”

On an altogether more poignant note, McShane admitted that the unexpected loss of his father last year had come as a heavy blow.

“It was such a shock and that takes a lot of time to get over it,” he said. “The day in Druid’s Glen was quite emotional — my mum, brother and sister were there and it was great to see all the lads (from the squad) there as well. He was quite an admired man around the local area so a lot of people were out to celebrate and it was a good day.”

Made even better, it seems, by Stephen Hunt taking the golf very seriously. But, unfortunately for him, not playing it very well.

“The thing was,” McShane grinned, “at the first hole he stepped up and thought he would cream it but he went right into the ditches. Liam Lawrence videoed it and it is a good video.”

Putting his serious skipper’s face on, the Hull City man spoke of the confidence and spirit in the Irish camp ahead of tonight’s meeting with the Azzurri.

“Yes we can beat them,” he said. “Of course. You have to go into every game and believe that. We have been together for a good couple of weeks and it has been great for the team and for team spirit as well. And it will be an honour for me to lead them out.”

While the match might be one game too many for some of Ireland’s aching footballers Keith Andrews is simply, well, aching to play.

After losing almost the whole of the season to a freak medical problem — a serious infection following groin surgery — the Blackburn midfielder is relishing the additional game time.

Andrews confirmed he was back with an eye-catching performance against Northern Ireland in the Carling Cup, followed up by another solid outing against Scotland and then, on Saturday night in Skopje, he more than played his part in securing a vital result to keep Ireland on course in Group B

“Yeah, it was massive,” said Andrews. “I thought it was a very professional and solid performance. We had a slice of luck with the penalty obviously and hopefully that is one that we are going to get this time round and that could help us qualify. In the last campaign we certainly didn’t get any luck.”

And, of course, in common with everybody else, Andrews had to single out fellow Dubliner Robbie Keane’s record-breaking tally of 51 goal — and counting.

“I find that absolutely blinding and I don’t think enough is made of it,” said the Blackburn man. “He is literally a goal machine. We are a very solid team and we all play for each other but I don’t know what we would do without him. He’s the one that sticks the ball in the net which is the hardest part of the game.”

For Andrews, nothing less than a win would have sufficed on the night.

“We fully expected Russia and Slovakia to win their two home games and that put a little more pressure on us. But I’m delighted now to be going into the double-header in September level on points. We’re full of confidence, we feel we’ve got a very good squad and we feel we can push on.”

But first up it’s Italy here in Liege tonight. Not a fixture to capture the public imagination perhaps but, for Keith Andrews, it’s enough that it’s another 90 minutes of action.

“I’m definitely happy to be playing,” he said. “I’m playing more games now than I’ve played in the last year!”

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