Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill won't beg Republic exile Ireland to come back

By Garry Doyle

Martin O'Neill insisted yesterday he has no intention of pleading with Stephen Ireland to return to international football after it emerged that the Stoke City midfielder has been blanking the Republic manager's telephone calls.

In the latest chapter of this long-running – yet non-moving – story, Ireland's petulant behaviour has tried the patience of yet another Irish manager.

However despite Ireland's evident lack of respect, O'Neill is prepared to forgive, forget and welcome the Cobh-man back into his squad.

"The door remains open," said the O'Neill. "But I won't go begging to him."

And nor should he because after seven years of self-imposed exile from the international scene, it seems absurd that Ireland should still be asking for more time to consider his position.

Yet this is precisely what has happened after a month when O'Neill – and a senior FAI administrator, Mary O'Brien – made futile attempts to make contact with him, before being told, via Ireland's agent, that he would not be making himself available for the upcoming internationals against Turkey, Italy, Costa Rica and Portugal.

"The order of events was as follows," said O'Neill yesterday. "I had a meeting with a couple of the Stoke City players a few weeks ago but deliberately didn't want to speak to Stephen in that group because the type of conversation I wanted to have with him had to be on a one-on-one basis.

"So I called him to get something organised. There was no answer, which was fine because I'm not always immediately responsive myself to phone calls. At the same time we had the FAI trying to make contact also.

"No answer came. Then his agent called Mary to say that Stephen wouldn't like to be considered but would like a conversation with me some time in July.

"Following on from what Mark Hughes had said in an interview, I thought it was very obvious then that Stephen didn't want to be involved in these games.

"And look, if he's not going to be available this summer then that's fine with me. But what I'm saying is that if he wants to get involved with us down the line then he needs to know that I'm not going to continue chasing.

"If he phones me some time in July, of course I'll speak to him then. But he has to make the call – not me. It really is that simple."

However, with Ireland nothing is simple and has not been since the night in 2007 when he told his team-mates he had to miss an important European Championship qualifier against the Czech Republic because he was grieving for his grandmother.

When it emerged that Patricia Tallon was actually still alive, Ireland altered his story and killed off another grandmother, Barbara Kitchener. Alas, she too survived her grandson's attempted cull.

Embarrassed by the nature of his lies, Ireland subsequently retired from international football. And ever since he has been playing a game of chase.

In response, four different Republic managers – Steve Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni, Noel King (in his time as a caretaker) and now O'Neill – have made him aware of their interest.

"Other players have made themselves available, niggles and everything," said O'Neill, "because they really want to be involved. It (the Stephen Ireland saga) is not a life or death issue with me. Sometimes returning to a team can't always be on your terms."

Belfast Telegraph


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