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609 days since his last appearance, Stephen Ireland starts for Stoke City this afternoon

Mark Hughes has praised the midfielder’s attitude during his long-term layoff.

Ireland starts in today's third round tie.
Ireland starts in today's third round tie.
Image: Barrington Coombs

ALMOST TWO YEARS after suffering a horrific double leg break, Stephen Ireland will this afternoon make his return to competitive football after being named in Stoke City’s side to face Coventry in the FA Cup.

The 31-year-old midfielder’s last appearance came at Crystal Palace in May 2016 before he suffered the serious injury during a training session that month.

Ireland was a surprise inclusion on the bench for Stoke’s New Year’s Day meeting with Newcastle United but Mark Hughes has handed the Cork native a first start in 609 days at the Ricoh Arena.

The six-time capped Ireland international has worked tirelessly through an extensive rehabilitation programme and his attitude was rewarded by Stoke in December with a renewed contract until the end of the season.

Hughes has shown his loyalty to Ireland throughout his long-term layoff and his inclusion in the visitors’ line-up for this afternoon’s third round tie is another indication of that.

“Stephen has done really well, he had a catastrophic injury and I think it shows the mettle of the guy to get back to a level that allows me to consider him for games,” Hughes said yesterday.

“His attitude since he’s been out is beyond criticism, I had to recognise that a little bit and keep encouraging him.

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“Never mind the circumstances of other people being unavailable; he was in the squad last weekend on merit because he’s worked exceptionally hard.

“We’re really pleased for him; he’s been a bit ham-strung with little niggling injuries and that’s stopped him being able to advance as quickly as he would have wanted too.

“At times his enthusiasm to get back quickly was what was leading him to get those injuries, so we hope now he’s over that and he will get a fair crack at it and be an option for us.”

Ireland starts in the Stoke midfield alongside Charlie Adam and Joe Allen while Irish midfielder Michael Doyle is named in the Coventry XI.

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