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Sunday 24 February 2019

Stokes: Call me up

Celtic's in-form hitman says he'd like nothing more than a return to Trap's squad and vows to never give up hope

Celtic's captain Scott Brown lifts the trophy following their Scottish Cup Final soccer match win over Hibernian at Hampden Park on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
Celtic's captain Scott Brown lifts the trophy following their Scottish Cup Final soccer match win over Hibernian at Hampden Park on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
Hibernian's Jordon Forster and Celtic's Anthony Stokes fight for the ball during the Scottish Cup Final. Pic: PA

TWO medals already in the bag from his double success with Celtic and a new contract on the way, which will guarantee Champions League football for next season.

Life is pretty good for Anthony Stokes at the moment, with one glaring omission – his international career. But the Dubliner says that he will never give up hope of reviving his Ireland ambitions and wearing the green shirt of Ireland as well as the green and white hoops of Celtic.

The 24-year-old has played just once under the Giovanni Trapattoni regime and even that was back in the day, more than two years ago (against Uruguay). He hasn't even made it into the squad since he was originally included in a 33-man panel for three games in May 2011.

DEBUT

Stokes – who made his debut against San Marino in 2007, but has managed just four caps since – is just one of many players to fall foul of Trapattoni and his harsh views on players' withdrawal from squads, as Trap was most displeased when Stokes pulled out of that squad in 2011.

But there's no doubting the Dubliner's talent – he was man of the match as Celtic outclassed Hibs in the Scottish Cup final on Sunday.

And it's also significant that apart from Liam Lawrence (whose Greek club PAOK can reach the Champions League should they win their last two games in a play-off series, the first of those two tomorrow), Stokes is likely to be the only Irishman involved in the Champions League group stages next season.

All he needs to put the world right again is a recall.

"I will be watching the game at Wembley tomorrow, the same way I watch every Ireland game. I may not be in the picture with the national team now, but that doesn't mean I stop supporting the team and I'd love to see the lads do well," Stokes told The Herald.

HOLIDAYS

"I am off on holidays now, I have three and a half weeks off before we're back for pre-season, but if the call comes from Ireland at some time soon – I know they have four games over the next while – I'd be straight back to Dublin if they wanted me.

"I would never rule myself out of being back in the squad, I want to be back in the Irish squad, there's nothing I want more. But it's out of my hands, all I can do is play as well as I possibly can for my club and hope that it's good enough, that it can influence him.

"But it's not in my hands, only the Ireland manager can change the situation. I try not to let it get to me and focus on my club football, I keep hoping that if I do well enough I can get the call again," added Stokes.

His international career has been a controversial and difficult one. Just a teenager when he made his debut under Steve Staunton in that chaotic and narrow win over San Marino, he won two more caps under the Louth man, in the USA against Ecuador and Bolivia.

He did enough to win the attention of new manager Trapattoni and was an unused sub for the friendly against Poland early in the Italian's reign, a taste of what was to come as he was left on the bench five times in all, on each occasion in a friendly game.

Finally given a run-out under Trapattoni as a late sub for Andy Keogh against Uruguay in March 2011, things started to go really wrong a few weeks later. Stokes was included in that 33-strong squad for games against Scotland, Northern Ireland and Macedonia, but later withdrew, the official reason being fatigue.

That pull-out by Stokes infuriated Trapattoni and prompted one of the most memorable quotes of his Ireland reign. "Injuries are injuries, but they should visit our doctor. That is the rule. If they are asked by the national team, they must go. If they are in hospital or they are dead, that is okay, but if there is an injury they should see our doctor," Trap raged at the time.

"You just have to accept it and deal with it," Stokes says now of his exclusion. "I can just hope that if my form is good enough, I will get picked. What you can say about Trapattoni is that he is very loyal to the players that he has and maybe that's a good thing as the Irish squad has stability.

OUTSIDE

"There are other players like me who are on the outside and trying to get back in, so you just keep hoping that if the club form is good enough, it will be enough for the Ireland manager."

Looking back on Sunday's cup final success, Stokes was pleased with the day at Hampden.

"I got two assists in the 3-0 win, but the main thing was that we won," he said.

"We dominated the game, we were comfortable enough, so it was a good day for us.

"Hibs played okay and for Pat Fenlon's sake, I'd like to see him do well, but we shut them down in every department, didn't really let them play. When we play like that, we are very hard to beat and Hibs caught us on a good day.

"Pat has done a great job at Hibs, to get to the cup final two years running is a massive achievement."

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