STEPHEN HUNT believes the controversy over the absentees from the Ireland squad has instilled unity in the camp.
Rising stars James McCarthy and Marc Wilson put their international futures in jeopardy by failing to contact the FAI about injuries and the Wolves winger laid down an ultimatum following his 90-minute display in the Carling Nations Cup win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.
“To be honest, it’s probably brought us closer together in terms of the ones that have turned up,” admitted the 29-year-old. “Tonight, the captain (Robbie Keane) was quick to praise ones that are here. Credit to him for saying that and credit to us for being here.”
It marked the end of an eventful seven days for the winger, having scored a vital goal last week to help preserve his club’s Premier League status.
He said: “It’s not easy coming in two days after probably the most emotional day of my life. One thing I would say is if you’re going to declare for Ireland, then make sure you’re 100% committed — otherwise the players won’t have it and neither will the manager.
“Anyone that’s 100% Irish would die to be here. If there’s anyone not committed to the cause, they should stay at home because there’s no point in being here. It was a good team performance tonight and the togetherness is massive.”
Shay Given echoed Hunt’s rallying call, citing the post-match celebration as evidence of the camaraderie within the group.
He said: “This week has brought us closer together as a group, and that’s important. It showed at the end when we picked up the trophy, what it meant to us.”
Last night’s spicy encounter against Celtic rivals Scotland was just the warm-up Ireland needed ahead of Saturday’s European Championship qualifier in Macedonia, according to Hunt.
“Listen, its Scotland versus Ireland, let’s be honest about it,” he claimed. “We really steamed over Northern Ireland in the last game and they were missing lot of players. That was second gear.
“Tonight was a different game altogether and it was nice to have a competitive match.”
All eyes turn to Skopje for the Ireland players and Hunt hopes that last night’s showing moves him into contention for a start following an injury-ravaged season.
He said: “The lads that have played in the qualifiers so far have done okay.
Aido (Aiden McGeady) has done well in this campaign. If I do get to play — that’s well and good. But if I don’t, then I’ll make sure I’m there to support the lads that are ahead of me.”
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