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'I never stopped believing in myself' - Gleeson back in the Ireland fold 9 years on from last cap

At 27, the Birmingham City midfielder could be set for a long-awaited return against Switzerland or Slovakia.

Gleeson speaking to the media.
Gleeson speaking to the media.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

IT’S QUITE THE understatement to say a few things have changed since Stephen Gleeson last featured for Ireland.

Back in the summer of 2007, the then 18-year-old Wolves midfielder was one of a rake of uncapped players brought to the US by manager Steve Staunton for an end-of-season tour.

Along with the likes of Alan Bennett, Joe Gamble, Joe O’Cearuill, Stephen O’Halloran and the infamous Joe Lapira, Gleeson made his senior debut for the Boys in Green in the 1-1 draw with Ecuador at the Giants Stadium before his second appearance two days later against Bolivia.

But while that group of players will never get the opportunity to line out for the Boys in Green again, the Dubliner, now 27, is aiming to earn a third cap this week after a nine-year absence.

Stephen Gleeson Playing for Ireland back in 2007. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After a series of loan spells, his time at Wolves ended in 2009 with a move to League One side MK Dons. There, he established himself in the team — playing 174 times in five seasons under Roberto Di Matteo, Paul Ince and Karl Robinson.

A switch to Birmingham City followed in the summer of 2014 and and the former Cherry Orchard schoolboy has been a regular in the Blues midfield ever since.

It’s been a long road back to international football and a more rounded and mature Gleeson is determined to make the most of it this time around.

“It’s amazing to be back in squad, especially so close to a big tournament,” he said at the FAI’s National Training Centre today. “It’s good to be involved again after such a long time.

“Anything after this week’s training will be a bonus and if I can get onto that pitch it will be great.

I never stopped believing in myself, even dropping down the leagues. I knew I had the ability to one day get back here. I think it’s eight or nine years since my last cap and I think I’ve been playing well at my club over the last eight months.

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“The last time I didn’t take it all in. I was probably a bit young and overawed. Coming in here I have the belief I belong in this squad and I have the ability to give something to this squad.

“I’m taking a lot more in this time and I’ve definitely taken a lot more experience from the first time.

“I don’t think I had played that many league games. I didn’t take everything in or play to my best ability. I’m coming in this time and I’ve played in the Championship consistently and done well. I’m definitely a better player now.”

Birmingham City v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - St Andrews Gleeson has made 36 appearances for Birmingham City this term. Source: Nick Potts

Familiar with many of the current crop through his time in Ireland underage teams, Gleeson can also call upon a cousin for advice as he’s related to Stoke City midfielder Glenn Whelan.

“There’s a lot of lads who I played in the U21s with here as well but to have a family member to congratulate you when you’ve been named in a squad is really good,” he added.

“He’s quite established in it and has done really well over the years. If I have any doubts I can go to him and other players as well so it’s good to see.

“He’s got a lot of caps and has played under the last two or three managers so if I need that advice I know where to go.”

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