Unlike his defensive comrade in arms Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger has made it back from lengthy injury just in time to be in contention for the World Cup qualifier against Sweden.
However, with Giovanni Trapattoni clearly concerned about the centre-half’s lack of game time — approximately 180 minutes in five months — it appears the Leicester City man will have to be patient a little while longer before donning the green shirt again, with Ciaran Clark looking the more likely starter in the Friends Arena tomorrow.
The manager’s final decision will be known later today and, though St Ledger is eager to be involved, he is prepared to accept his fate.
“I’ve obviously played two games in a short period of time and that’s exactly what’s required, since we’ll now be playing tomorrow and Tuesday,” he said. “I feel fit. I’ve had a five-month break, so I’m relatively fresh. I’ve played enough games for him now so he knows what I can do. But whatever decision he makes, I’ll just have to go with it. He’s been in the game long enough to make that decision. For me, it’s just great to be back involved and, at the end of the day, everyone who turns up wants to play, everyone can, and the main objective is to get to Rio. If it’s the case that I don’t play and we get there, then that’s perfectly fine.”
St Ledger won his last cap in the 4-1 win over Oman in London last September, following an unusually complicated hamstring injury which ruled him out of contention for club and country. After months of the problem failing to respond to treatment and, fearing the risky last resort of surgery, it took a couple of visits to the renowned German sports injury specialist, Dr Wolfhart Muller, to finally put him on the road to recovery.
“He was fantastic. He sorted the problem obviously. I owe him a big thank you to be honest. He did what he does with most of his players: injections into the hamstring and the next day into your back. You also get your vitamins, the magnesium and the zinc. What did he inject? I don’t know — calf’s blood maybe? Not sure. I think he keeps it quiet but it did the trick anyway.
“The problem was a haematoma — basically like a squash ball on the back of my hamstring — which was stopping the muscle from healing. I said to the physio at the club that there was this massive lump on my leg. After a scan, they thought they could draw it out, but the texture was like jelly and they couldn’t. So the option was to have surgery and have it taken out but I was against that. Because what would you do if that didn’t work? That was the reason I went down the injection path.”
St Ledger returns to an Irish squad which has changed significantly in his absence.
“There’s been a big upheaval of players,” he agrees. “But change is going to happen. It happens to the best teams. It happens to Manchester United. The emergence of Seamus [Coleman] has been brilliant. He’s been fantastic since he’s come in. Sometimes, when there’s change, it does take time for the new players to settle. In this case, when you’re straight into the qualifiers, as much as you’d like them to have time, you don’t have it.
“But the players that have come in, Seamus, James [McCarthy], Marc Wilson, have done brilliant. They are playing in the Premier League week in, week out. Whether we qualify or not they’ll benefit from the experience of this campaign and hopefully that will stand to us in the future.
“Looking towards the Sweden game, obviously everyone seems to be talking about [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic because he’s one of the best strikers in the world and he can produce some magic moments. I think they are a very good team, they’re organised and I think it would be unfair to pick out just one player. Okay, he can produce something but as the manager said to us this week, ‘You win as a team and those players have to create the chances for him to finish’, so if we all do our jobs against Sweden, we can come away with the right result. I think we’ve a good team spirit, a resilience and that’s always important going away to places like Sweden. We’ve got a grit and a determination and hopefully that will stand us in good stead.”
But even if it doesn’t go to plan for Ireland tomorrow, St Ledger maintains it’s too early to write off our World Cup hopes.
“You wouldn’t have thought Armenia would have gone to Slovakia and won,” he points out, referring to the Euro 2012 qualifiers. “I don’t think anything is definite until it is mathematically so. We’ll keep going regardless of the result tomorrow.”
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