I’ll be a nervous wreck watching from afar

Earlier this week, I had an operation to reset a broken nose I picked up in a recent game — not the first time that’s happened to me, I can assure you — and, as well as that, my Achilles has been acting up a bit recently.

For those reasons, I won’t be joining up with the Irish squad for the friendly against Oman in London next week. I spoke to the manager about it and he agreed it was best I take the opportunity to make the most of the rest and recuperation offered by the international break before I get back to trying to help Bolton get over our disappointing start to the Championship season.

Still, if I hadn’t been suspended for this evening’s game in Astana — the result of my sending off against Italy at the Euros — then I guarantee you that neither the broken nose nor the niggling Achilles would have kept me out of the game against Kazakhstan.

But, instead, I’m back home in Dublin for this one, getting ready to watch it on the telly with family and friends. And I know I’ll be a nervous wreck because I’m not a good spectator where Ireland are involved.

There have obviously been some big changes in the squad since the summer, especially with Shay Given and Damien Duff retiring. I can’t say I saw it coming because, even though I was talking to the lads during the Euros, I don’t think they knew themselves.

The decision was always going to be very difficult and the lads were torn between whether to stay or go. For Shay, I think in the end it probably came down to the fact his body was giving him signs that it would be better to concentrate on his club if he was to play on for a few more years.

I’m not surprised that most people were in the dark about Damien’s decision right up until he announced it. I got on very well with Damien — he’s a very generous, genuine, family-orientated kind of guy — but, from seeing him up close over the last few years, I’d have to say he’s still a very private person and quite guarded. He probably wouldn’t feel he’s the kind of person who could go to the likes of James McClean or Aiden McGeady and say, ‘maybe you should try this’ or ‘have a look at that’.

It’s not that he wouldn’t want to help people, it’s just that because he’s so private and humble with it, he wouldn’t feel it was his place. I’m not sure Damien ever fully saw himself as the player we all knew him to be.

The good news is that Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne are staying on. There has been a lot of talk that Robbie should have retired and I know he got a bit of stick after the Euros. To which I’d say: people should be careful what they wish for. This is Ireland’s record scorer we’re talking about, a man whose goals have saved us on many a day. Robbie is one of those players who can still change a game for us.

And Richard, well, you only have to think of what he did in Moscow and all the other times he put in such a commanding performances to know how important he is to the team.

And while it was disappointing to lose Shay and Damien, if we’d lost the four of them it would have been disastrous. Because, let me tell you, when you’re walking out that tunnel in a big game and you see Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane with you, it gives you confidence. And it’s especially important for the younger lads to walk out with players who’ve been there and done it.

But probably the biggest surprise over the last few weeks was Darron Gibson’s decision to withdraw from the squad. I can understand he would have been disappointed at not getting any game time at the Euros, especially as he had made the move from Manchester United to Everton, and was playing consistently and doing well. Then he saw Paul Green coming into the Euros squad as a replacement for Keith Fahey — but it was Paul who ended up getting game time ahead of Darron at the finals. So there was bound to be disappointment there and you can feel sympathy with him on that. But then you have to stop and think that, with me suspended and Paul Green injured, this game in Kazakhstan screamed that it was an opportunity for him to stake a claim. Instead, it looks like he’s cut off his nose to spite his face.

But one man’s difficulty is another’s opportunity and James McCarthy will now get the chance to start alongside Glenn Whelan in midfield in Astana. People might think I would have mixed feelings about the idea of James doing well this evening but that’s not the case at all. When you’re talking about your country all you ever want for the team is the win whereas maybe, if someone else took your place at your club, you might be thinking, ‘well, the season is long so a draw will do us here’. I’ve been on record before as saying that I have a lot of time for James both as a player and a person. And, no doubt about it, he’ll be a regular for us for years to come.

As we start into World Cup qualifying, I think it’s time to draw a line under the Euros. Understandably, there’s been an inquest into what went wrong for us in Poland and the manager and players are under a lot of scrutiny. And, as far as I’m concerned, the only way to really answer the criticism is with a good performance and a good result in the first game of the new campaign.

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