Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

SPL hitman Sproule would love international return

Ivan Sproule (left) battles it out with Xavi during Northern Ireland's game with Spain back in 2007
Ivan Sproule (left) battles it out with Xavi during Northern Ireland's game with Spain back in 2007

Ivan Sproule has revealed his desire to play for Northern Ireland again and end an international exile that has lasted almost six years.

The Castlederg man may be 32 now but given his super scoring form recently, manager Michael O'Neill could do a lot worse than call him up for the World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Israel at Windsor Park later this month.

Since moving from Hibs to Ross County in January, Sproule has been inspirational for his new club, who are up to fourth place in the Scottish Premier League and remarkably in with a chance of qualifying for Europe in their first season at this level.

Tomorrow County host Neil Lennon's champions elect Celtic. These are heady days for the former Highland League outfit and Sproule, who has found the net five times since joining the club, is a key figure.

Playing for Omagh Town as a kid in the Irish League under Roy McCreadie, Sproule always had an eye for goal to go along with searing pace. He has retained those qualities which would benefit the current Northern Ireland set-up.

It's somewhat surprising that Sproule only has 11 caps to his name, the first coming in September 2005 as a substitute in the famous 1-0 win over England and his last in November 2007 in a 1-0 defeat to a Spanish team that would go on to conquer the world.

In between he netted his one international goal, the winner against Estonia in the first match at Windsor after George Best's death.

Given some of the players who have worn the green shirt since that loss to Spain, it's easy to come to the conclusion that Sproule was discarded too quickly.

Nigel Worthington, the new boss at York City, didn't fancy him and it's only lately that O'Neill has taken an interest, attending a match between Ross County and Inverness Caley Thistle, who included Billy McKay, a Northern Ireland debutant in last month's scoreless friendly draw in Malta.

On his international past and a possible future, typically forthright, Sproule says: "I know when you aren't playing regular club football it's hard for an international manager to pick you. I understand that and at Hibs when I wasn't playing, I didn't deserve to get thought about at that time.

"But I'd like to think now that I've moved to Ross County, am playing on a regular basis and have been banging the goals in that I can at least be considered.

"I know Michael has watched me and I'm sure he has seen the highlights of other games.

"I'd love to get called up and if selected there would be nobody prouder to represent Northern Ireland again.

"In days gone by there were maybe one or two times when I thought I should have been in the squad but that was then.

"I respect all the players in the Northern Ireland team. We have some cracking players at a high level and I want to see our country do well. That will always be the case whether I'm playing or not.

"Obviously though if I got a recall that'd be fantastic. The decision is out of my hands. All I'm concentrating on is playing against Celtic on Saturday and putting in another good performance for Ross County."

Down the years Sproule has made a habit of scoring in big games.

There was that stunning hat-trick for Hibs at Ibrox against Rangers in his first spell with the Edinburgh side. He'd only joined a few months earlier from Institute!

He's also scored against Celtic a few times in his career and is itching to do it again tomorrow.

"It's great to be playing again and involved in a big game like this," says the former Bristol City ace.

"I've scored four or five goals against Celtic over the years and I'd like to add to that tally. They are a formidable side and it will be a tough match for us but with the form I'm in at the moment I fancy myself to nick another goal."

Speak to Sproule for 15 minutes and his enthusiasm rubs off on you.

He's loving his football right now and life in general.

It's good to hear him in such fine form. He's had enough dark days. When he was a teenager Ivan lost his beloved dad a year after his big brother Keith, a hero to him, died in a car crash. In November 2009 he and his wife suffered the loss of a stillborn daughter called Molly, the pregnancy having gone to full term.

Living in Inverness, Ivan says it's a 'beautiful place' to bring up his young sons Sam and Alfie.

"Life is good. Obviously it was a big move and big decision to leave Hibs for me and my family," he says.

"I took the decision for footballing reasons as I wasn't getting the chance to play as much at Hibs as I wanted to this season and for any footballer the most important thing on a Saturday is to play.

"It maybe raised a few eyebrows when I went to Ross County but we are flying in the SPL, I've started to score goals on a regular basis and I'm playing week in week out.

"It was a big upheaval moving my family but myself, my wife and my two young boys are really enjoying it. We're determined to make this work."

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