Damien Duff says he's "devastated" to miss out on Ireland's World Cup double header against Bulgaria and Italy over the next week.
While his team-mates are in Dublin today for a final training session ahead of tomorrow's vital Group 8 game at home to a struggling Bulgaria side, Duff was back in Newcastle, getting treatment on the hamstring injury which has deprived him of a 73rd cap.
As the Irish media gathered in Malahide yesteday, waiting for access to the training session, word had got around that Duff was no longer with the Ireland camp but was already in the air and on his way back to England.
It was later confirmed that Duff had suffered an injury in training, and the Newcastle man last night spoke to the Evening Herald about his huge disappointment about missing out on two vital games for Ireland.
"I am just devastated to miss the game," said Duff. "These are two massive games for Ireland and all I wanted to do was play."
Duff had earlier spoken to the Herald at length about his commitment to international football -- and his inability to understand why anyone would not want to play for their country.
There have been a number of players who have quit international football, only to carry on with their club careers for a long time afterwards.
People like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Andy O'Brien and Stephen Carr are resting at home over the weekend, playing a bit of golf and catching up with that 'Shameless' boxset instead of playing for their countries. Stephen Ireland, at 22 years of age, appears to have played international football for the last time.
But despite his many problems with injuries, Duff has no intention of leaving the international stage before he has to.
"It means a lot to be to play for my country," Duff told the Evening Herald. "A few times they have practically had to wheel me out onto the pitch as I wasn't fully fit, I had a little niggle here or there, but nothing would stop me from playing for my country. It's something I have never learned in my career, to say 'I'm not fit today.'
"Robbie, Killer and Richie Dunne are the same as me, every game for your country is special, but it's up to Stephen Ireland if he wants to come back and play international football again.
"From what I know, Stephen just doesn't want to come back and that's it. To not want to play for your country, none of us can fathom that. I will play until I drop and I will only leave the Ireland set-up when I am asked to, when I'm too old. I'll be here until they stop picking me.
"It's up to Stephen, he was great when he was with us and he scored some great goals for us, but he doesn't want to play for Ireland. He's doing well with Manchester City and that's the most important thing for him. I don't know what's gone on in his private life but if he doesn't want to come back with Ireland, then so be it, leave him to it.
"I don't think there would be a huge problem in the squad if Stephen came back. I wouldn't agree with Hunty [Stephen Hunt] when he said there'd be a 'riot' if Stephen Ireland came back to the squad just for the World Cup, if we qualify.
"Stuff has gone on in his private life and we don't know what's gone on, but if he did come back, we wouldn't have a problem -- we'd probably have bit of a laugh and a bit of banter about it and get on with it. We'd welcome him back with open arms, but he doesn't want to come back and what can you do. He has been asked to come back, he has Richie Dunne beside him in training every day, but he doesn't want it. We do and we want to get to the World Cup."
Duff won the first major medal of his career under Jose Mourinho, the Premier League title in 2005, and now he's aiming to make a second appearance at a World Cup finals under Giovanni Trapattoni -- and the former Blackburn man reckons that the two coaches are very similar.
"I think we have a bit of an Italian mentality from the manager with Ireland now. It's a bit like Mourinho, just the small details that count. It's about shutting up shop when you are 1-0 or 2-1 up. We haven't done that with Ireland in recent years but we are doing it now," says Duff.
"All you have to do is look at the manager's CV, the clubs he's been with and the things he has achieved. Hopefully we'll be shutting up shop and getting the points in the next two games as well.
"I think Trapattoni and Mourinho are very alike, they both ooze charisma. The are both very big into the small details in games -- if you are 1-0 up you have to keep it tight, maybe bring in a bit of time-wasting. It might not be pretty on the eye and it's not always what the punters want but it's effective, and if it gets you three points, well that's what it's about, it's about us getting to South Africa next year.
"He has the eleven out on the pitch working as a unit, working as a team. We will always be a hard team to beat -- you look at the teams who are doing well in the Premiership this season, it's not as if they all have great quality but they work together and play as a team and that's what the manager has us doing.
"The language is not an issue for us. At times the manager doesn't even need to speak to us, he speaks with his hands, when you see him make a gesture on the sideline you know what he's on about and what he wants. Marco [Tardelli] is a bit better with his English as he's living in London, but there are no problems with language with Trapattoni, he has done well with us and the lads love working with him.
"He's 70 now but he's the most enthusiastic man you could work with. He's as keen and as hungry as ever, his enthusiasm just rubs off on us. He is flying around the place in training and you might go into a session feeling a bit tired but you see Trapattoni, at 70, and he's just incredible to watch," added Duff, who has also picked up on Trapattoni's views about how the players should dress and eat.
"He has a thing about mushrooms. Even when I am over at Newcastle I stay away from mushrooms because of Trapattoni. I can't see how they are bad for you but Trapattoni has banned them.
"He has a bit of class about him with his gear, the Italian style, and he's not a big fan of things like ripped jeans or baseball caps. Most clubs do that nowadays, they have a system where you get fined if you don't stick to the dress code.
"And it's only right that we have that, we should look the part and not look like Rag Arse Rovers. Trapattoni doesn't like us wearing shorts to dinner and I have seen him pull lads aside over that. Baseball caps, mobiles at the dinner table -- he's not keen on them either. It's not too regimented, and it's still relaxed but it's only right that you don't bring your mobile to the dinner table. You wouldn't do it in a restaurant so you shouldn't do it with Ireland."
Although Duff will now miss out himself because of injury, he reckons that the next 180 minutes of football will determine the future of the team.
"These games will make or break us in the group, it's the biggest week in years for Irish football. We got off to a great start and have put ourselves in a good position in the group, but it's make or break time now," Duff said.
"Italy is a key game for us and we need to be going to Bari with a win from the Bulgaria match. We know if we can beat the Bulgarians in Dublin it would more or less kill them off in the group.
"I think we can win in Bari. If we have a win from the game tomorrow we'll go out to Italy high on confidence. Italy are our main rivals in the group and we need to at least avoid defeat against them. It's a short qualifying group, in the league you have 38 games and you can make up for points that you dropped but you can't do that in the qualifiers, we can't afford any slip-ups.
"We're not getting any younger, after this World Cup it will be four years before the next one. We'll all be that bit older by then so this could be the last chance for a lot of us to play in a World Cup. Time is running out for us, we have got off to a good start and hopefully we can do it."
Tomorrow will be Ireland's tenth game at Croke Park but Duff -- a southsider -- admits that the northside venue is still not a real home for the current team.
"I think we're still getting used to Croke Park and it's certainly not Lansdowne Road, we all knew that when we were leaving. Croke Park is a great stadium, it looks good and can fit in a lot of our fans but it doesn't have the atmosphere of Lansdowne Road, I think everyone would agree with that," said Duff.
"We haven't put in the best of performances at Croke Park but we've been getting results and that's the most important thing.
"Especially last month against Georgia, we were 1-0 down and maybe a couple of years ago we'd have lost that game but we came back to win. I know a lot of people weren't happy with the performance but we got the win, and maybe before the current gaffer [Trapattoni] came along we might not have got those three points. We're getting the wins -- now we just need to keep going and get to the World Cup."