Comment: 'Time to get the message on Stephen Ireland's call'

Comment: 'Time to get the message on Stephen Ireland's call'

LAST WEEK Martin O’Neill told us he had received a call from Stephen Ireland’s agent to say the midfielder would like a meeting with the Ireland manager in July to discuss his international future.

In other words, he needed more time to think things over. At this stage — if anyone still cares — it is worth pointing out two things. Firstly that it is seven years since Ireland decided to quit international football which suggests time is one thing he does not need.

But secondly, this latest installment in the Ireland saga is typical of the Cobh man’s approach. From 2007, when he gave international football the heave-ho, he has continually played a game of tease, suggesting he wants to come back without ever doing so.

Here is a timeline of the longest running drama — outside of Fair City — this country has produced.

September 2007 — a week after claiming his maternal and then paternal grandmothers had died, when they hadn’t, Ireland releases a statement to excuse his unimpressive behaviour which saw him withdraw from the international squad after a 2-2 draw against Slovakia in Bratislava.

“When Saturday’s game ended Steve Staunton took me outside the dressing room and told me they had taken a call from my girlfriend, Jessica, to say my grandmother had died.

"I was deeply shocked because I believed it was my maternal grandmother who had brought me up from when I was five. I immediately rang my girlfriend and she was distraught and explained that she had suffered a miscarriage.

“Jessica said she was very lonely and wanted me to come home. She thought they might let me home quicker if they thought my grandmother had died.

"When I finished the call I told the manager that my grandmother had died and that because we were very close I wanted to go home immediately. The manager said that was no problem and the FAI hired a private jet.”

December 2008 — Ireland speaks about ending his exile:

“Yes, I am but I’m just trying to keep my head down at the moment,” the then 22-year-old said when asked if it was true that he was planning to return in the early part of 2009.

January 2009 — Liam Brady, then Ireland’s assistant manager, gets exasperated with the midfielder’s behaviour. “When we [Brady and Giovanni Trapattoni] went to Manchester to meet him, we agreed with Stephen Ireland that he would contact us when he was ready.

“The manager has explained the reasons. He has a system and he wants to stick to the system. There has been a lot of talk but the player has not spoken to us.”

May 2009 — the Cobh man changes his stance — again: “I always say ‘never say never’ because it’s hard not to, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back.”

August 2010 — Ireland restates his intention to stay in international exile: “I watch Ireland matches like anyone else might do at this stage, but I don’t feel a part of it at all. It doesn’t make me feel like I should go back play again. That question is gone for me and the answer won’t change my mind.”

However by March 2012 he was thinking of changing his mind: “Obviously I’ve matured as a person since then. Things are much more settled and I’m at a club where I am playing. Now the kids are putting me under pressure to play for Ireland.

“My seven-year-old is playing football and he’s really good. He would like to see me playing for Ireland. What happened in 2007 could have been dealt with in a better way at the time.

“But even if it had been, I’d still have needed that big gap at some stage anyway. I just think it was a very difficult time. Jessica was heavily pregnant as well as having two children to look after.”

December 2013 — Ireland steps up his campaign to come back. “There is unfinished business there. I would be interested if the call came.”

May 2014 — The call from Martin O’Neill does come. However Ireland refuses to answer it.

“I tried to get hold of Stephen a couple of times by phone. He did not pick up but that’s fine, not a problem,” said O’Neill.

“Eventually his agent spoke to the FAI and then I spoke to the agent. But the truth is this — I’ve left it in a state where I’ll not call. It’s really up to Stephen, if he wants to call me fine.

“I assume that the games coming up here were obviously too soon for him, seemingly, I’m only surmising.

“If he wants to be involved then he will have to call me.

“I will not be making the calls out. I want players who want to come and play. I’ve always said the door’s open, not a problem, but I’m not going to be chasing things round.”

That won’t appeal to Stephen Ireland, however. For seven years he has clearly enjoyed this game of chase. Sooner or later people will cop on to his behaviour. A little like Yaya Toure he wants to have his (birthday) cake and eat it.