Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Stephen Ireland’s World not falling apart

Any suspicions that Stephen Ireland yearns for the international career he has foregone and the chance to play France at Croke Park tonight were dispelled by the sight of him being driven at high speed around the Yas Marina Grand Prix track here yesterday, before lunch in the same hotel as contestants for Miss World, in town on a three-day visit.

The joie de vivre was unsurprising given that the experiences Ireland says led him to give up on his nation have now been followed by hatemail from compatriots, he claims.

“I've had a lot of that stuff but it was bound to come. It's normal and it doesn't faze me at all,” he said. “A lot of people say to my friends ‘Why's Stephen Ireland not playing for his country? if I ever see him I'll do this or that to him' but then if I ever see them they just bottle it. It's all talk.

“I've had confrontations with people who have said ‘Oh if I see him I'm going to tell him what I think' and then I see them and they're like ‘Oh mate, right decision, don't go back and play for Ireland.' They're always different to my face. My family have had problems too but it's nothing we can't deal with. I have my family in Manchester now, and that's the way it is.”

Not even seeing the Republic of Ireland overcome the French would take the 25-year-old back — “I'd wish them all the best but it's no skin off my back. They are the ones doing it,” he said — and his reasons run far deeper than a famous bust-up with coach Brian Kerr when with the under-16s or even his fateful withdrawal from Steve Staunton's side in Slovakia in September 2007, which led to his claims that first one grandmother, then another was dead.

The Republic set-up was a misery, the Manchester City player said, because the dominant Dublin clique don't want Cork boys like him around.

“Even now I know for a fact the whole Irish set-up is exactly the same: they pick all the Dublin lads, one or two Cork lads, and the Cork lads are thrown on the back seat and that's basically it,” he said.

“It's just wrong. It's not fair because there are a lot of great players go other ways because of it. Even when I was under-age I didn't want to go training there, I was looking for excuses but I had to because I wasn't cross-channel. When I got old enough to make my own decisions I knew exactly what I wanted.”

It is a point that another son of Cork, Roy Keane, has also made in the past, though the timing of Ireland's observations will cause huge reverberations around his native country.

The player also claims Giovanni Trapattoni had paid “lip service” to the idea of bringing him back into the fold, to placate the Irish press.

“Trapattoni rang me during the summer asking me if we could meet up at some stage,” he said.

“They had a game the following week against Bulgaria and I thought 'maybe he wants me to come to this game'. But he said ‘maybe [we can meet] three of four months from now' which I thought was strange.

“Then he said ‘so it's ok if I speak to the press and tell them we chatted.' So I think it was more about him covering his back and having a press conference where he could say ‘I've made the effort, I've spoken to Stephen, blah-di-blah-di-blah.”

Ireland denied the widely reported suggestions that he had fled the national scene being pinned to the floor by team-mates trying to remove a hairpiece he was wearing.

Irish tabloid headlines have included: “Hair apparent: how did Stephen go from balding to bushy so quickly?” and the player said the Irish media had contributed to his decision.

“The Republic's ridiculous. It's just ridiculous. This is the way it is for them — they can write for only a few days about a good result but they can write for weeks on end about a bad result.”

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