ELLIOT KEEN TO WEAR GREEN
Reborn Hearts striker dreams of playing for the Irish team again
IT'S not so long ago that he was Ireland's saviour.
Stephen Elliott, the man whose goal gave an under-pressure Brian Kerr some much-needed breathing space with the winning goal in a World Cup qualifier away to Cyprus just over five years ago, knows that he's slipped way down the ladder when it comes to strikers capable of making the Irish squad.
So far, in fact, that it's doubtful Giovanni Trapattoni knows who Elliott is or where he plays.
But the ex-Sunderland and Wolves player is still doing the business at club level -- for Hearts in the SPL; Elliott is in action against Celtic at Parkhead tonight -- and at the age of 27 has time to get his international career going again.
A move to Scotland in the summer has revitalised a club career that was going nowhere and Elliott now admits that playing for Ireland again is still in his thoughts.
"Playing for Ireland in those games is something that can never be taken away from me and playing for your country is something you never give up on," says Elliott, capped nine times (one goal) from 2004-06.
"International football is something I haven't done in a while, but I know it's something I can do. I started six games for Ireland, I played up front with Robbie Keane in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers.
"It's a while since I was involved with the Irish side. I don't think I've even been in the squad since the San Marino game four years ago, and Ireland have a lot of strikers to pick from now. I know I can't complain too much about that. Two years ago I was going nowhere, but I have a new lease of life here at Hearts and I have something to offer Ireland again.
"If I can keep up what I am doing now in Scotland, you never know. It's a long shot but I hope if I do well with Hearts that will get recognised," adds Elliott, who recalls his crucial goal in that 1-0 win over Cyprus under Kerr in 2005.
"Cyprus was a highlight for me as the win kept us in the hunt for qualification for the World Cup. It was a great feeling to score that goal and you keep the hope and belief that those days might come again.
"I've only just gone 27 so hopefully people still have to see the best of me. Hopefully I can kick on now after a few hard years."
Elliott is just one of the Irish players doing well in the SPL at the moment, and although it's a league for which Trapattoni clearly has little regard, Elliott is delighted to be in Scotland.
"It's really enjoyable at the moment. I'm playing every week, we're winning most weeks and we're pushing hard behind the top two in the league," he says.
"We play Celtic tonight but we're the form team, so we're confident.
"We're only two points behind Rangers after we beat them at our place last weekend. We have Rangers at Ibrox next week, so we feel we can put some real pressure on the Old Firm. At the start of the season, the aim at Hearts was to cement third place. No one expected us to get into the top two so everything that happens from now on will be a bonus, really."
Elliott came onto the scene with Kevin Keegan's Manchester City in 2004, before a move to Sunderland. The former Belvedere player was superb in his first season under Mick McCarthy, scoring 15 league goals to help them win promotion. After that, he struggled to reach those heights and moved from Sunderland to Wolves to Preston and Norwich (on loan). "I feel I am getting back to where I know I can be," he says.