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Dublin: -1°C Tuesday 2 March 2021

Stephen Ireland 'warming' to idea of international return, says O'Neill

Shay Given will be ‘monitored’ by the Ireland boss, meanwhile.

Ireland in action for Stoke.
Ireland in action for Stoke.
Image: EMPICS Sport

IRELAND MANAGER MARTIN O’Neill has spoken to Stephen Ireland about the possibility of making a comeback to the international set-up.

Yesterday, a provisional squad for the friendly with Serbia on 5 March was named with Stoke midfielder Ireland still in exile seven years on from the infamous ‘Grannygate’ episode.

O’Neill has expressed his openness to the idea of 27-year-old Ireland returning when he took over the job late last year and has revealed that the pair spoke over the phone recently.

And while the chat was a productive one, O’Neill intends to meet the Cork native in person.

“I’ve spoken to Stephen,” said O’Neill. “He hasn’t had very much playing time in the last six or seven weeks. I hate to use the old cliche of a slate being wiped clean but let him go find his feet at Stoke for a start.

“I want to go and see him personally and I will do that in the foreseeable future. He is warming to that fact but I wouldn’t say any more than that.

“The last thing I want to do is to make a comment that would end up in dispute.”

Another player O’Neill has discussed a possible return with is former number one Shay Given.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Middlesbrough v Blackburn Rovers - Riverside Given will play his last game for Boro this weekend. Source: Richard Sellers/EMPICS Sport

The 37-year-old goalkeeper is currently enjoying a successful loan spell at Middlesbrough since joining from Aston Villa in November but the 93-day period comes to an end after this weekend’s meeting with Leeds meaning he has got a decision to make.

O’Neill chose not to go into detail about what was said during a conversation with Given but explained that he will not be linking up with the squad this time around.

I’ve spoken to Shay but I don’t really want to go into a deep conversation about what transpired. Essentially Shay has got his enthusiasm back for the game again as he is now playing.

“That loan ends at the weekend and there is a choice to go back to Aston Villa. I think he has enjoyed it immensely at Middlesbrough and I will monitor the situation.

“For me, when the games come around I would like to be mostly picking the players who I think are the best and in form at that time. So he has a choice at the end of the season and hopefully he will get involved.

“I don’t think there is a place at Aston Villa so it might elsewhere. I’ll see how things develop.”

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No recalls for Shay Given or Stephen Ireland in O’Neill’s squad for Serbia friendly

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Ben Blake

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