Ireland ‘warming’ to idea of return

Martin O’Neill believes Stephen Ireland is “warming” to the idea of an international return but the manager says he wants to sit down with the player to discuss his seven-year exile and his current intentions in more detail.

“I would like to speak to him properly about it,” said O’ Neill. “Sit down face to face and say, ‘what was the reason for it?’ But I am not too bothered about the political side. The main thing for me is I want a squad that I feel are actually capable of beating the opposition.

“If some players say, ‘listen, I want to play, let bygones be bygones’, that’s great for me. I get the impression that might be the case [with Ireland] but I don’t want to expand on that until I have the conversation with him.”

O’Neill, who has so far spoken only by telephone with the Cobh man, declined the opportunity to name the Stoke City midfielder in his first squad — for the friendly against Serbia on March 5 — which was unveiled in Limerick yesterday, but was keen to stress the decision also had much to do with the midfielder’s limited game time since moving to the Britannia Stadium from Aston Villa.

“If he genuinely wants to come back and I think it’s worthwhile him coming back, honestly, I haven’t a problem with that whatsoever,” said O’Neill. “But he has to be playing. At this minute, would he be in the side in front of [James] McCarthy? There’s a fairly decent chance he wouldn’t be. [Stoke manager] Mark Hughes, for whatever reason, has decided that Glenn Whelan plays in front of him.

“There’s two elements to it. I don’t want to spend my life saying to players, please come back if in their hearts they (a) don’t really want to come back and (b) might not actually be up to it. Now, the Stephen Ireland of a couple of seasons ago we wouldn’t have a problem with, but time moves on. He can come into that category again and I think he feels that himself with getting some game time.”

There has been no international recall for Shay Given either. The veteran keeper, who will play the last game of his loan spell for Middlesbrough tomorrow before returning to Aston Villa, has indicated his willingness to come out of international retirement but, in leaving him out of his squad for the game against Serbia in Dublin, O’Neill has opted to put the Donegal man’s future on the long finger.

O’Neill said: “Let’s just say by September he has found a club and is going brilliantly, it would be remiss of me not to go and see if he happened to be in blinding form and is the Shay Given of a couple of years ago and he could step in and be the best goalkeeper that we had at that particular time.”

Revealing that he has spoken to Given, O’Neill added: “I think he has enthusiasm back for it and I will monitor the situation.”

Republic of Ireland squad


David Forde (Millwall), Darren Randolph (Birmingham), Rob Elliot (Newcastle)


Richard Keogh (Derby County), Marc Wilson (Stoke City), Seamus Coleman (Everton), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Alex Pearce (Reading), Stephen Kelly (Reading), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace), Richard Dunne (QPR), Ciarán Clark (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Brighton)


James McCarthy (Everton), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Paul Green (Ipswich Town), Andy Reid (Nottingham Forest), Aiden McGeady (Everton), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Stephen Quinn (Hull City), David Meyler (Hull City), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Jon Walters (Stoke City)


Shane Long (Hull City), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town), Kevin Doyle (QPR), Anthony Stokes (Celtic), Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest).


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