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Friday 15 December 2017

Stokes will stay in cold storage

Hibs striker in form but Ireland recall is unlikely

Anthony Stokes playing for Sunderland back in 2009.
Anthony Stokes playing for Sunderland back in 2009.

Irish goals in England's Premier League are hard to find, with Ciaran Clark and Stephen Ward our top scorers with one goal each.

So the sight of an Irish-born player banging in the goals for a top-flight club, with a return of six goals in seven games, should be a cause to celebrate and look with confidence for what's to come in the qualifiers.

Anthony Stokes has given reason to cheer, his feat of scoring twice for Hibernians against Motherwell last weekend taking his tally for the season to six goals, or four in six league games.

Unlike the Irish strike force heavy on the thirty-somethings that lined out in the recent qualifiers, Stokes has youth on his side. The former Arsenal man is still only 29.

Clutching

Stokes in his second stint at Hibs.
Stokes in his second stint at Hibs.

But even if he keeps banging in the goals for Hibs, Stokes won't spend the next three weeks, leading up to the Moldova/Wales World Cup ties, clutching his phone waiting for the FAI to ring.

Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick are scoring in the Championship, as is Seán Maguire, who has to be in the next squad, pushing Stokes further down the ladder. Goals for Hibs against Motherwell and Hamilton have little currency with this Ireland manager.

Neil Lennon, the man tasked with managing Stokes on a day-to-day basis these days, is a big fan of Stokes, and Hibs is a club that seems to suit the Dubliner, so perhaps it could all work out.

Only last month, Lennon said Stokes had more to offer, after some poor spells sent his career into a tailspin, ending up in the nadir of his time at Blackburn.

"You don't lose the talent. You lose your way a little and you lose your confidence. But the talent is still there and, at 29, he probably still has his best years to come," Lennon said, suggesting that Stokes should hold out ambitions of playing for his country again.

But the Irish national team and Scottish club football are not good friends. Apart from call-ups for five players, like Aiden McGeady, Cillian Sheridan and Darren O'Dea, the SPL was ignored by Giovanni Trapattoni. Given that Martin O'Neill managed in the SPL and Roy Keane saw out his own playing career there, you'd expect them to have more of an interest in Scottish affairs, but O'Neill too seems to distrust the SPL in terms of standard of play.

Stokes celebrating a goal for Hibernian.
Stokes celebrating a goal for Hibernian.

Jonny Hayes has been picked by O'Neill but worryingly didn't even make the Celtic bench for their Champions League game with PSG last week; a flood of goals for Aberdeen has not convinced O'Neill that Adam Rooney can deliver at this level and Rooney remains uncapped.

There also seems to be a level of distrust when it comes to Stokes. Keane knows the player very well, as he went as far as paying £2million to bring the then teenager from Arsenal to Sunderland 10 years ago.

Keane had run-ins with Stokes over discipline, the Dubliner too fond of the nightlife in the north-east for Keane's liking.

"Anything that happened at Sunderland, 90pc was my problem, my fault," Stokes said, reflecting on his time under Keane at the Stadium of Light.

But Stokes' main problem is his place of employment - Scotland.

"I know his talent and I'd like him to be getting back to knocking on Martin's door. But whether the Scottish League is enough for Martin to consider is another thing," says Lennon.

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