Tuesday 19 March 2019

Gleeson: It's harder to get into Irish panel than England's squad'

Stephen Gleeson
Stephen Gleeson

The sight of his former team-mate Dele Alli scoring for England at Wembley last week brought a smile to the face of Dubliner Stephen Gleeson, who jokes that these days it's harder to get into the Ireland squad than the England team.

But Gleeson (27) is deadly serious about his mission of breaking into the Ireland panel in time for that trip to France for the European Championships. The Birmingham City player is certainly not a bandwagon-jumper with a faint connection to Ireland: a product of Cherry Orchard, Gleeson already has an advantage over some other Irish Euro hopefuls in that he's played for his country, winning two senior caps under Steve Staunton way back in 2007.

Since then Gleeson has been very much under the radar but his form in the Championship with Birmingham City this season has snagged the attention of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane and the midfielder hopes he can do enough in the coming months to at least open up the door.

"I don't like to talk myself up as it's for other people to judge, but I feel I have the qualities to be involved in the squads at least," Gleeson told The Herald.

"Over the last few months when there have been 40-man squads named for the Ireland games and I'm not involved, that's been hard to take and it did get me down a bit. I certainly feel I should be in the 40-man squad, whatever about the 23-man squad.

"Martin has got us to the Euros and has done a fantastic job but I feel I can still play for Ireland again. It will be tough to get into the squad, I know that, but hopefully my form can be good enough so the Ireland manager can't leave me out of the squads, that's down to me.

"It's going to be hard, the lads who got us qualified are there at the moment in the squad and I know it's a long time since I was in any sort of an Ireland squad. All I can do is perform for my club and if I can get a chance before the Euros, maybe in March, then it will be up to me."

While uncapped hopefuls like Alan Judge, Eunan O'Kane and Adam Rooney have a lack of international experience to deal with, Gleeson has been there and worn the jersey, playing in both games of a USA tour under Staunton.

"That trip in 2007 seems so long ago now. I think I am a much better player now than I was then and I am definitely more mature as a person, 2007 was a great experience, to play for my country at such a young age," says Gleeson, who played for Wolves and MK Dons before last year's move to Birmingham.

"But, being honest, I didn't really kick on after that, I had to go into the lower leagues and learn my trade and I am a much better player now, I feel if I was called up I would go and not look out of place. if I do get the chance, I'd grab it with both hands.

"I think you learn a lot from the lower leagues. You look at England the other week with Dele Alli playing for England, only a short while ago I was at MK Dons in League One with him. It's probably easier to get into the England squad than the Irish one right now as Roy Hodgson is trying out so many players.

"Martin and Roy have a squad, those players have done the job over the last two years so I can't knock anyone. The next Ireland game is March so all I can do is hope that some of the new faces get a chance, then it's up to the players to take that chance," he added, aware that Keith Andrews was in a similar place when he emerged onto the stage.

"We do have late developers in Ireland, I know that. I see these players coming to the peak of their careers late, only getting a run with Ireland at 28 or 29, like Keith Andrews. Even if it doesn't happen for me over the next year, I am still only 27 so I could have a chance in the next campaign, of course I'd love to go to France but if not, I will not give up hope. You never give up on that dream of playing for Ireland."

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