Friday, February 20, 2009

St Ledger waiting for Ireland call

More than two years after he was first called into the Ireland squad by Steve Staunton, Preston North End defender Sean St Ledger is still waiting for his first international cap.

And while the centre-half has admitted his frustration at being left out in the cold under Giovanni Trapattoni, he has dismissed suggestions that he is about to turn his back on Ireland and throw in his lot with Northern Ireland.

The 24-year-old has been a mainstay in defence for a Preston side who are in fourth place in the Championship table and has earned widespread praise for his defensive displays.

But the FAI have yet to come calling again for St Ledger, who qualified for Ireland through his Carlow-born grandfather, and some fans at Deepdale were surprised when young full back Eddie Nolan was called into the Irish squad for the recent World Cup qualifier against Georgia as defensive cover ahead of St Ledger.

"I am frustrated and disappointed that my chance with Ireland hasn't come yet, but I will just have to be patient and wait for my chance if it comes along," St Ledger told the Evening Herald.

"But there is no chance of me turning away from Ireland and looking to play for Northern Ireland, one or two people mentioned it to me but it's not in my mind. My allegiance is to Ireland and no one else, I don't just want to get international caps for anyone, I want to play for Ireland so there's no chance of me playing for anyone else.

"An international career with Ireland would be amazing for me, but sometimes you can't get too hung up on these things and sometimes they happen when you least expect them, that was the case when I was first in the Ireland squad three years ago, the call came from nowhere and maybe I'll get that call out of the blue again someday.

"Giovanni Trapattoni and his staff know where I am and where I play, they have been to see us play and they were impressed with Eddie Nolan when they saw him play for Preston, I just hope I get a chance to catch the eye again."

St Ledger, who made his name with Peterborough United before a move to Preston in 2006, was briefly involved with the Ireland U21 side under Don Givens but was never capped and his first real taste of international football was when Steve Staunton caused a major surprise by adding the Preston man to his senior squad for the opening game of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Just months earlier he had been playing in England's fourth division (League Two) but in September 2006 St Ledger was on the bench for Ireland's 1-0 defeat in Stuttgart against Germany - the man next in line for the central defensive positions if anything had happened to first-choice centre halves Richard Dunne and Andy O'Brien - and was also a sub for the qualifiers against Cyprus and the Czech Republic.

But since then there's been nothing, and like other players who emerged into prominence in the Staunton era (Jon Douglas, Alan O'Brien, Jay Tabb, Darren Potter), there has been no involvement with the national team under Trapattoni.

"It's disappointing not to get the call but I will wait my turn," he adds. "I'm not the only one who has been left out, I think our striker here Stephen Elliott should be in the Ireland squad as well. We have four Irish players here: myself, Stephen, Wayne Henderson and Eddie Nolan, it would be great for the club to have all four of us in the squad.

"We might get a chance in the summer, Ireland have that game against Nigeria in London in May and then the qualifier in Bulgaria in June, by that stage some of the Premier League players might be injured or unavailable so I have to make sure I am fit and ready if the call does come.

"Ireland don't have too many central defenders at the moment. Richard Dunne and John O'Shea seem to be the men in possession, Paul McShane can play there as well but we don't have too many after that so I hope I can be next in line when Ireland need a centre half," added St Ledger, who was first made aware of his eligibility for Ireland when he lined out for Peterborough alongside Irish boys like Killian Brennan, Neale Fenn and John O'Flynn.

"I have been happy with my form this season. We have been good defensively and kept a few clean sheets in the last while, but we can do better and certainly out away form can improve".

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