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Ireland: Mancini smashed my spirit

Aston Villa's new midfielder Stephen Ireland believes he was "forced out" of Manchester City as he could not find any way to re-establish himself in manager Roberto Mancini's plans.

The 23-year-old went from being the Player of the Year at Manchester City for the 2008-09 season to playing little part under Mancini after the Italian took over last term.

Ireland, who joined Villa as part of the deal that took James Milner to City, dismisses claims he had a suspect attitude last season.

He added: "I thought that was really unfair. I was first in and last out of training and no-one worked any harder than me.

"I was always the best player in training so maybe I was not for him.

"I was forced out but I couldn't be happier than to have joined Aston Villa because as a young kid I was always fond of Villa.

"Watching Villa on television playing in Vienna this week it just felt that I had been here a long time because I have immediately felt at home."

The former Republic of Ireland international admits he needs to rebuild his confidence as he prepares to make his debut against Newcastle at St James's Park.

"For the last year or two it wasn't easy to operate," Ireland added. "If I had left two or three years ago it would have been more difficult than now. Leaving now it seems as if I was never at City.

"It's a shame to leave behind people and fans with whom I had a good relationship. But I have been expecting to leave for some time.

"Under Mark Hughes at City everything appeared to be moving in the right direction. But then to make just 16 appearances last season was a massive drop for me. I want to kick on now because it was a big blow to my confidence."

When asked about his international situation, Ireland, who turns 24 tomorrow, did say that he would be willing to speak with the FAI, but stressed that his club situation took priority at this juncture.

"I think the fact that I have not been back there for three years is a good indication of my situation," he said.

"I have made my thoughts clear on the situation and I have not spoken to anyone within the FAI. Club football and doing well for Aston Villa will come first for me. I am always open to discussions and to having a conversation. I would not rule out speaking with the FAI but, for me, I don't think my international career is something I have to answer about.

"I haven't missed it. I played only six games for the national team, so I don't really have that much to miss."

While Ireland is eager to hit the ground running for his new club, tomorrow is another big game for caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald.

He seems certain to be a contender for the post on a permanent basis having guided Villa to a 3-0 win against West Ham and a 1-1 draw against Rapid Vienna in their Europa League play-off.

MacDonald believes owner Randy Lerner may seek a "big name" manager but he has seen at close hand the merits of promoting from within.

He said: "I was at Liverpool when they promoted from within. There was outstanding talent on the pitch and outstanding knowledge in the boot room."

All that is occupying MacDonald's mind now is tomorrow's clash. He added: "I am expecting a very tough game from Newcastle. It is their first game at home after getting back into the Premier League.

"They have some very good players and although they lost at Manchester United last week they are on that roll from having won promotion so comfortably they will be hoping to push on this season."

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel, full-back Luke Young, winger Ashley Young and midfielder Stiliyan Petrov, who were rested in Austria, will return while striker John Carew should also be available again after a knee problem.