Hunt wants Irish start

Stephen Hunt is targeting his first international start when the Republic of Ireland play Ecuador in Giants Stadium, New Jersey, on Wednesday.

Stephen Hunt is targeting his first international start when the Republic of Ireland play Ecuador in Giants Stadium, New Jersey, on Wednesday.

Hunt, who is a winger for Reading, has become a firm favourite with Irish fans for his brilliant cameos as a substitute in his three caps to date.

Hunt, 25, has proved a lively addition to the Irish squad since making his debut against San Marino in February but he now wants to get his first start for his country under his belt.

The former Brentford and Crystal Palace star should achieve that goal against the Ecuadorians or, if not, against Bolivia at the Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Saturday.

“When I first came into the squad, from day one the plan was to get my first start,” said the Waterford native. “I’m hoping that will come in these two games.

“If it doesn’t happen here then hopefully it will when the games return in September. It will be even better if it does come then as they’re the big games in Slovakia and the Czech Republic away.”

Hunt and the rest of the depleted Irish squad trained on Sunday at Montclair State University near their base in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The winger admits it will be odd playing at an away venue after the excitement of his last two appearances against Wales and Slovakia at Croke Park.

“It will be unusual playing away games now because the two games in Croke Park had some atmosphere, especially the second game under lights against Slovakia,” he said.

“I’ve been delighted with how the Irish crowd has reacted to me. It caught me by surprise to be honest.

“The Wales game when I came on and did okay was good to help the team go on and win the game but the Slovakia game when I got the reaction I did was pretty special. It’ll live long in the memory.

“That’s in the past now and I want the Irish fans to be singing my name in two years’ time and four years’ time and hopefully at European Championships and World Cups.”

Hunt’s determination to impress has been the biggest asset he has brought to Steve Staunton’s squad, but he wants to emulate his manager by starring in major competitions for his country.

“That’s what you’ll be remembered for, if you do qualify for one of the major championships,” he said.

“I want to be remembered for playing in World Cups like Ray Houghton and Roy Keane, who was one of the biggest influences on my career.”

Meanwhile, Staunton’s injury woes continued yesterday with the news that Manchester United star John O’Shea would not be joining the squad in the United States.

O’Shea, a substitute for Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea, was forced out due a back injury that is affecting his hamstring.

The defender was due to captain the Irish in the two-game tour and that honour has now passed to Wigan midfielder Kevin Kilbane.

“I'm disappointed that John has been forced to stay at home,” said Staunton.

Notre Dame University striker Joey Lapira, who qualifies for Ireland through his Irish-born mother, trained with Staunton’s squad.

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