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BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

IF the uncapped Newcastle United keeper Rob Elliot is trying get brownie points in the bank in terms of an international career with Ireland, he’s certainly heading in the right direction.

His wedding is imminent but Elliot’s stag party, in Las Vegas, will go ahead without him as he will be training with Ireland (probably in the rain) while his mates enjoy pool parties in Sin City.

Elliot is also in debt to the future Mrs Elliot as he has delayed the start of his honeymoon to go to the USA for Ireland’s friendly games next month.

A stark example, if indeed one was needed, of what international football means to some and not to others.

Like Stephen Ireland, who has not only declined yet another offer to come and join the Irish squad but showed an astonishing lack of grace and simple manners by refusing to take a phone call from Martin O’Neill.

Instead, he got his agent to call back an FAI official and then O’Neill himself.

It was 30 years ago this month that a young defender called Mick McCarthy proved how much he wanted to play international football by skipping his own brother’s wedding (where he was due to be best man) to make his debut for Ireland in a friendly, and the case still resonates, with a real interest in what international football has to offer being underlined by Elliot’s commitment.

Meanwhile, Stephen Ireland looks more childish and spoiled with every single effort by a series of international managers to indulge a player who has yet to win a major trophy or kick a ball in the Champions League.

“Well, that is a big statement, seriously, that is genuinely a big statement,” O’Neill said when asked about the sacrifice Elliot has made to join up with Ireland in Dublin this week.

“I spoke to Robbie and he was really keen, made the arrangements and had sorted the thing out and this is what he wants to do. That’s terrific, really terrific.”

MATTERS

Weddings and family matters will have a large bearing on the team Ireland will field in the four looming games.

Elliot and Conor Sammon will miss at least one game each due to the fact that they are both getting married while Marc Wilson will skip the game against Italy in London next week to attend a family wedding but will be back in the fold for the two games in the USA, against Costa Rica and Portugal.

John O’Shea will be available for the matches against Turkey and Italy but will be excused from the US jaunt to spend time at home with his newborn baby.

Robbie Keane will hook up with the squad when they land in the USA while club duties, in Saturday’s playoff final, will also delay the arrival of Kevin Doyle, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon,

But so far, everyone has answered Ireland’s call. Apart from a Cork man who plays for Stoke City, and O’Neill’s frustration in dealing with Stephen Ireland is clear.

“I am pleased with the attitude of the players, the ones I have spoken to want to be here as it’s a long time, we will be away for three weeks at the end of the season.

“We are talking about in the most part players who have a lot of caps but still want to come. I am delighted with the response,” O’Neill says.

“Players here have made themselves available, niggles and everything, they want to be involved in the squad. Absolutely fine. It’s not life or death with me at the end of it all. I’ve said this before. If Stephen Ireland really wants to involve himself here, it’s actually quite simply. You either do…But sometimes it can’t always be on your terms. That’s all.”

O’Neill’s annoyance at Ireland blanking his calls is clear, especially when the player’s agent then got involved. Was it a lack of respect from Ireland to get the agent to make the call?

“Well, I think you will have to come to whatever conclusion you come to,” O’Neill said.

Recently, O’Neill held a meeting with Ireland’s club-mates (Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson and Jon Walters) but left Ireland out of that meeting to deal with that issue at a later date.

“Then his agent called Mary (FAI official) to say that Stephen would like to be considered but would like a conversation some time in July. Fine,” added O’Neill.

“This following on from what Mark Hughes had said in the newspaper. I thought it was very obvious then that Stephen didn’t want to be involved in these games. Mark Hughes’ answer probably had a ring of something reasonably sensible - he’d just signed a contract.

AVAILABLE

“But if he’s not going to be available for the games, that’s fine. What I’m saying is if I don’t get a response…I spoke to the agent and said listen, if he wants to get involved I’m not going on chasing at the end of the day. It’s really as simple as that. This conversation wasn’t for my benefit or your benefit coming in - it was just going on.

“If he phones me some time in July, of course I’ll pick up the phone and I’ll speak. But I’m not chasing it anymore. Alright? It really is as simple as that.”


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