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O'Dea: I can fill the void

GIOVANNI Trapattoni will have paid special attention to the gait of his defenders as the Ireland squad assembled at team HQ out on the north Dublin coastline last night to prepare for Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier at home to Macedonia.

With just one clean sheet in the last five games, defence is naturally a worry for the Ireland boss, but the fitness and form of his defenders could cause the Irish boss sleepless nights.

Of the nine defenders named in the original 29-man squad, only two (Kevin Foley, Sean St Ledger) played in defence for their clubs last weekend as the rest were either injured (Richard Dunne, John O'Shea), suspended (Ciaran Clark), were played in midfield (Seamus Coleman, Kevin Kilbane) or else just left on the bench (Stephen Kelly, Darren O'Dea).

Not exactly confidence-building stuff as Macedonia come to town with a forward who's responsible for getting his club, Inter Milan, into the last eight of the Champions League (Goran Pandev).

Dunne's shoulder injury is the main cause for concern for Ireland and his fitness, or lack of, will shape the team Trapattoni fields for Saturday night.

But O'Dea, on loan at Ipswich from Celtic, has told Trapattoni that he's served his time and is ready to fill in against the Balkan side if needed.

"I know there is a chance of playing with Ireland this time as there are few injuries in the squad and in defence particularly. Someone's bad fortune could be someone else's opportunity for this game, and someone like myself, who has been in the squad for quite a while now, could have a chance," O'Dea told the Herald as he prepared to hook up with the squad in Dublin last night.

"It's not ideal to get in because of injuries, I always said I wanted to get into the team on my own merit and not because someone else was injured, but I'll do what it takes.

"If the call comes from the manager I will take it, I feel fitter than I have done in a long time, so if I get the opportunity I will be in good working order and ready to take my chance," added O'Dea, who was first called into the squad by caretaker boss Don Givens in 2007 and now has four senior caps, his first start coming in the 2-1 defeat to Norway last year.



Opportunities

"I want to be a regular in the Ireland team but I know that players in front of me are top players and have been doing well for Ireland for many years, so it's a tough side to break into. Opportunities may crop up for me over the next week, I just have to stay patient and keep doing well at my club, impress when I can in Ireland training," added the former Home Farm man.

"I am getting more games now with Ireland. I started against Norway and came on for the last 10 minutes against Wales. The Norway match was a big occasion for me, any game for your country is a big deal but to start at home in a game like that was a very big deal.

"That match came at what was a bad time for me personally -- I'd had a knee operation and had been out for eight weeks. I think I'd only trained for two days and then went into an international match whereas you'd expect to ease yourself into it with a reserve game or two.

"I feel now that I can step up to international standard ok without any fears, and given a chance, I won't let Ireland down."

O'Dea is one of those defenders who has had to be versatile: while on loan to Reading he had a spell at right back, he has played most of his football for Celtic in central defence, but has been used mainly as a left back by Ipswich this season.

"I'd be happy to play in any position and though I still see myself as a central defender, playing at left back wouldn't be a problem for me," says O'Dea.

"I had been playing at left back a lot this season, and while I was playing there the two centre halves were doing well. Our left back is fit again now so I've been on the bench for the last two games, but I hope to be back in the Ipswich side sooner rather than later.

"I can't complain too much, we won our last game 2-0 so I can't go banging on the manager's door. It's all part and parcel of football and I'll just deal with it.

"Performance-wise I have been happy, I feel I have improved massively as a player this season and that's come from playing games week in week out. It's a crazy league here in the Championship, I think we played six games in two weeks at one stage, it's very demanding, but for a player like me who's just hungry to play it's a good opportunity and something I want to be part of."

O'Dea has some good memories of teams from the Balkans: in his U21 career he enjoyed wins over Bulgaria and Montenegro, but he insists Ireland will not treat Macedonia lightly.

"Ireland have struggled against teams like this in the past, I know," he says. "There won't be any complacency from us about this game.

"In qualifying it's not really about the performance, it's about the result and we have to get a result in this game."