SPECULATION was rife today that footballer Stephen Ireland is in Dublin ahead of the Macedonia game -- but not for the match.
Ireland may accompany his girlfriend to tonight's glamorous Peter Mark/VIP Style Awards at the Shelbourne Hotel.
At the same time his former teammates are preparing for the crunch game tomorrow.
His partner Jessica Lawlor says Stephen is "distraught" at being at the centre of a "horrible hate campaign".
If Stephen shows it will be his first appearance here since he courted more controversy by saying he would "rather shoot myself" than live in Cork.
And he was this week disciplined by Newcastle United after pictures of him partying hours before a heavy defeat were shown in newspapers.
In an article in today's Herald Jessica sets the scene in the wake of media reports that the Newcastle midfielder's grand-uncle, George Michael Ireland, was a convicted killer and sex fiend.
Jessica, also from Cork, said that Ireland can't be held accountable for all his extended family's actions.
"He just texted me a picture of the front page and was like, 'who is this guy? I've never met him in my life'," she said.
"It's someone from his dad's side but he's got a lot of stepbrothers and stepsisters on that side and he wouldn't know half of them. He has never heard of this guy.
"I know he can be controversial but people seem to forget that he's only a 24-year-old who's just trying to live his life.
"It's so heartbreaking so see something like something like this, especially when you have young kids."
Ms Lawlor also spoke out about how "horrible" it was that he received so much negative publicity for alleged comments to a French publication. The piece claimed that he would "rather shoot myself" than live in Cork -- claims which he said were taken out of context.
"He was absolutely distraught about all that," she continued. "We were both like, 'are you kidding me?' It's not nice to read things you haven't said.
"It's like he's some monster, saying the worst things about his country. Just because he doesn't play for the (Ireland) side at the moment, it doesn't mean he hates his country.
"He made a mistake a few years ago and since then, he has never been forgiven but sometimes people need to be forgiven."See Page 20