Tuesday, April 28, 2009

O'Brien focused on fitness battle

Bolton and Ireland full back Joey O'Brien has revealed his plans for his recovery from injury in the close-season.

The Ireland defender has had another injury plagued campaign, and will be working during the summer to regain his fitness in time for first team action next season.

The defender's bad luck with injury has led him to make just eight Premier League appearances this season, with six starts and two as a substitute.

The 23-year-old Dubliner has recently undergone knee surgery in order to put an end to his injury worries, and the defender is determined to work hard in the coming weeks to try and get to full match fitness.

The defender, who has not played a game for the Trotters since last October, feels the rest of the team will need a big rest at the end of the season, but says it will not be the same for him.

Speaking about the coming months, O'Brien said, "The lads deserve a summer off but it won't be like that for me. It will be six weeks of really hard graft."

The Ireland international joined the Trotters as a youth player back in 2002, and has made a total of 50 Premier League appearances for the club since his promotion to the first team in 2004.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kilbane targets Irish Hundred

There are only three outfield players in the history of world football to play 50 or more consecutive competitive games for their country. The first was Wolverhampton Wanderers and England legend Billy Wright, the first player ever to reach 100 international caps. The second was Theodoris Zagorakis, the captain of the Greece side that won UEFA EURO 2004.

The third is Kevin Kilbane, Ireland's left-back, who represented his country at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and is hoping to play an instrumental part in taking the boys in green all the way to South Africa 2010.

Kilbane's amazing run began back in 1999 when Ireland faced Macedonia in a qualifier for UEFA EURO 2000. His half-century was achieved in Montenegro last September and, since then, the 32-year-old has played against Cyprus, Bulgaria, Georgia and Italy to take his tally of successive appearances to 54.

"I'm very proud of it," said Kilbane, with a modest smile. "I've tried to give my all in every game I've played in. I've probably been slightly lucky along the way where injuries are concerned. I've managed to stay injury-free whereas fellow internationals have got injured at the wrong time and missed international games and squads. "

The Hull City man now finds himself on 95 caps for Ireland, seven short of his former international team-mate and manager, Steve Staunton, who has 102. While Kilbane is not distracted by the record, he admits that he is going to give himself every opportunity to achieve it.

"You never know what can happen in international football," he smiled. "The games are spread out over a long period of time, but I'm hoping that I can continue being in the squad and try and help the team progress to another major tournament. If I can stay in the side and stay fit and healthy, then who knows?

"I can understand players who retire from international football because you do make a lot of sacrifices. You spend a lot of time away from your family and sometimes you play a lot of games in a very short space of time. But at the moment I feel fit, strong and I love been part of the Irish set-up and I feel very comfortable. It's where I want to be for a lot longer yet."

Ireland's results and, consequently the atmosphere in the squad, have been boosted by the arrival of Giovanni Trapattoni as manager. The Italian has won league titles with five different clubs in four different countries and the former Everton star believes that his pedigree and experience will be a key factor in their hopes of making it to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"He's brought a lot of steel to the team. We've stopped conceding silly goals at inappropriate times. We've won a lot of games 1-0, which is how we've achieved success in the past. More than anything else though, he's brought togetherness to us all and he's developing a squad which we think is capable of going on to qualify for South Africa.

"We've got a long way to go, but we have played some good football so far and got some decent results. We slipped up slightly against Bulgaria in our last home game by not winning, but bounced back with a good result against Italy in Bari. We need to continue the form we showed at the start of the campaign and maintain it. Hopefully, that will be enough to see us through."

Many people are tipping Ireland to finish second in Group 8 behind current world champions Italy, which should be enough to give Trapattoni's side a play-off match against a fellow European runner-up for a place in South Africa. Kilbane has experience of two such matches, a failure against Portugal in the run-up to EURO 2000 and a success against Iran over two legs that secured the Republic a place at Korea/Japan 2002.

"There's a lot riding on these games and consequently there's a lot of pressure," he recalled. "Usually, you find that a mistake or a set piece can win the match. The games are tight, cautious, opposition are always hard to break down and you just have to defend well. Hopefully, your team has enough quality to get you through in the end. If you do get through, there's a fantastic experience waiting for you at the end of it."

Friday, April 17, 2009

McCarthy focusing on Hamilton survival

Hamilton and Ireland starlet James McCarthy maintains he is ‘happy’ where he is, despite clubs circling around the young midfielder.

Rangers and Celtic have been widely reported to be interested in the 18-year-old, but he is in no hurry to leave the Lanarkshire club.

“I’m happy just now but I’ll need to just see what happens, I’m contracted to Hamilton and if a deal comes in to Hamilton and the chairman’s happy then we’ll sit down and speak,” McCarthy said.

“The Old Firm are massive clubs in Scotland and it would be great to go to either.

“But I’m happy where I am, playing week-in-week-out in The SPL at Hamilton Accies and you can’t get much better than that for a boy my age.”

McCarthy was speaking after being nominated for the Young Player of the Year award, but he maintains that SPL survival with Hamilton is more important than individual success.

He explained: “I’m delighted, it’s always great to be voted for by your fellow professionals, but there’s three other great professionals there - James McArthur, Andrew Driver and Steven Fletcher- but I’m delighted to be amongst the four em>

“My main aim is keeping Hamilton in The SPL first before taking this award and I’d be more pleased to stay in this division.”

He added: “We’ve gone throught a sticky patch just now when we’ve not been able to score, but we’ve got a big game coming up against Inverness and it’s one we’re all looking forward to.

“I’m sure we can stay up, we’ve got five games to go and hopefully we can pick up some points and score a few goals.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Derry's McEleney off to the Academy Of Light

Ireland U17 striker Parick McEleney is staying at Sunderland after the young Derry man was confirmed as one of eight players who will be involved at the Sunderland academy of light next season.

The former St. Brigid’s College pupil will be joined at Sunderland by fellow Ireland U17 international John Egan from Cork.

McEleney scored on his Irish debut against Bulgaria in August 2008 and is tipped for a bright future within the game. He currently plays for Foyle Harps and represented the Derry & District League in the squad which won the Foyle Cup in July 2008.

No doubt McEleney will be keen to emulate the progress of fellow Derry international Darron Gibson who has been a constant feature within Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland senior squad and who made a positive impact when he came on as a second half substitute in the recent 1-1 draw away to World Champions Italy in Bari.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Darron Gibson - Bulgaria is massive game for Ireland

Derry's Ireland and Manchester United midfielder, Darron Gibson, has said that he thought Ireland were unlucky not to have won against World champions Italy last Wednesday and described the 1-1 draw as "massive".

"It was a massive result for us," said Gibson. "And to be fair we probably could have won it at the end. We all knew that we needed to get something out of the game after drawing with Bulgaria last weekend in Croke Park."

The 21 year-old midfielder replaced Blackburn Rovers player, Keith Andrews in the 55th minute. He refused to take any credit for helping the team to secure a point but praised the decision-making of manager, Giovanni Trapattoni.

"A few people have said to me that I changed the game when I came on but I wouldn't want to say that myself," he said. "For most of the match we were passing the ball sideways and when Trapattoni decided to bring me on he told me to try and pass the ball forward. Obviously his decision to change things paid dividends because Robbie went on to score the equaliser."

Gibson explained that he was not close enough to comment on the controversial sending off of Italian forward Giampalo Pazzini in the opening minutes of the game.

"It was at the opposite side of the pitch from me so it was hard to see what had actually happened. It looked like his arms were up high but I don't think he meant to catch John O'Shea the way he did and I suppose the referee made a decision from what he saw afterwards with the blood coming from John's head. But to be honest I didn't really see it so I can't really say."

Having failed to take all three points at home to Bulgaria last week, Gibson admitted that the team were disappointed but he took comfort from the fact that they can strengthen their chance of either winning the group or finishing in second when both teams meet in Sofia in June.

"We were disappointed not to beat Bulgaria at the weekend and obviously the next game is massive because they have a game in hand and they are not too far behind us. The mood in the camp is good at the minute and we are looking forward to our trip to Sofia in June."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Folan hoping to carry on form for Hull

IT was, without doubt, the result of the week on the international stage and Caleb Folan is determined to use Ireland's draw in Italy as a springboard towards helping Hull City to safety.

The Tigers striker came off the bench midway through the first half on Wednesday night and capped an impressive display by playing a part in Robbie Keane's late equaliser.

In contrast to his exploits with Ireland, Folan's domestic season has been dogged by injury and loss of form with his only goal of the season having come in the opening-day win at home to Fulham.

However, after helping the Irish silence a partisan home crowd in Bari, the 26-year-old is now hoping to play a full part in keeping City in the Premier League.

He said: "Being away gave me the opportunity to play a bit. It also gave me the chance to experience a different kind of football at international level.

"You are up against players with different styles of play and that helps to prepare you for what is to come in the remainder of the season.

"Getting on to the pitch gave me that bit of a boost and a bit of confidence. Hopefully, I can bring that back here and perform in the same way.

"You get a lot of time to yourself when you are away and that gives you an opportunity to reflect. You often think about the games that are coming up for your club and we want to be a Premier League team next season.

"You have time to think about what you need to do and we know we have to start winning a few games."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Keane: We can win the group

Robbie Keane has warned reigning World Cup champions Italy that Ireland are ready to inflict further pain on them as the World Cup qualifying campaign comes to a finale.

Ireland stunned the world champions in Bari on Wednesday night when Keane snatched an 87th-minute equaliser to ensure the race for top spot in Group Eight is still alive and up for grabs.

Marcello Lippi's team remain two points clear of Ireland, who bounced back from their failure to beat Bulgaria at Croke Park on Saturday to deny the Italians a five-point lead at the top of group 8.

Robbie said: "We are still hanging in there. We still have Italy to play at home and we still have some tough games away as well - but Italy do as well.

"It is still hanging in the balance."

Asked if Ireland could still win the group, Keane replied: "Of course we can."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Late Keane goal Keeps Ireland on track

Robbie Keane kept Ireland's dreams of automatic qualification for the World Cup finals in South Africa alive with a late equaliser to deny ten-man Italy victory.

The Tottenham striker stabbed home an 87th-minute shot in Bari to claim a point that keeps Ireland within touching distance of the Italians at the top of Group Eight.

It also ensured manager Giovanni Trapattoni a share of the spoils against his native country and the man who replaced him as Italian national boss, Marcello Lippi.

The reigning World champions took an 11th-minute lead through Vincenzo Iaquinta despite having had striker Giampaolo Pazzini sent off with only three minutes gone in the game.

But the Ireland players showed true Irish grit and got their reward in the end as they retained their foothold in the race to make it to South Africa next summer.

Early drama has become a feature of Ireland's recent games with Poland and Georgia stunning the hosts at home by taking the lead within minutes of kick-off and Ireland reversing the trend with Richard Dunne's opener only 40 seconds into Saturday's 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Croke Park.

However, with Italian coaches Lippi and Trapattoni having prepared painstakingly for an eagerly-anticipated contest, both had their plans ripped apart before their players had the chance to put their managers game plans to the test.

Kevin Kilbane, whose late own goal had handed the Bulgarians a point on Saturday, collided into Pazzini within a minute and was perhaps lucky to escape a yellow card.

The striker, making his first senior start for his country, was not quite so lucky two minutes later when he caught John O'Shea with a flailing elbow, which drew blood and the red card from German referee Wolfgang Stark's pocket.

Replays suggested the decision had been harsh, a view certainly shared by the home supporters, who had earlier jeered Lippi for his refusal to select Bari-born Antonio Cassano.

But if Trapattoni sensed an opportunity, his hopes were dashed within eight minutes as the world champions demonstrated their class in devastating style.

Andrea Pirlo received the ball from full-back Fabio Grosso and delivered it perfectly back into the defender's path to allow him to drill a cross through the ineffectual Paul McShane and Andy Keogh.

Iaquinta was unmarked in the middle to dispatch the simplest of chances and any perceived advantage for Ireland had been wrenched from their grasp.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, it was the supremely organised Italians who were dominating the game and Trapattoni uncharacteristically opted for a change with only 22 minutes gone.

The Ireland boss has stuck rigidly to his favoured system since deciding that was how best to make use of the players at his disposal.

But in withdrawing Andy Keogh, who had started wide on the right in place of the injured Aiden McGeady, and sending on Hull City striker Caleb Folan, he shuffled his pack to good effect.

Keane dropped into the hole between a three-man midfield and frontmen Folan and Kevin Doyle, and the change gave them a foothold in the game.

Midfielder Keith Andrews scuffed a 31st-minute effort wide when he should have done better and Stephen Hunt forced a fine save from Gianluigi Buffon with a half-volley five minutes before half time.

Few in green either on the pitch or the thousands in the stands would have been too disappointed to see Pirlo replaced by Angelo Palombo for the restart and he was quickly followed by Derry's Darron Gibson and Andrea Dossena as the two managers sought to out-manoeuvre each other.

Hunt, who was soon to be joined on the pitch by his younge rbrother Noel as Doyle made way, had ambitious appeals for a 56th-minute penalty waved away after he went down under Buffon's challenge but Ireland were at least starting to make an real impression on the game.

But it was not until an enthralling final ten minutes or so that the home side wavered and, when they did, 'The Boys In Green' finally took advantage.

Kilbane saw an 84th-minute shot deflected over as the Italians became increasingly at nervous the back and their anxiety was to increase markedly as the clock ran down.

The Italians finally cracked three minutes later when Folan made a nuisance of himself as he pursued Given's long clearance and, when the ball broke from a scramble, it fell to the right man in the right place - Robbie Keane.

Keane needed no second invitation to stab home the 38th goal of his Ireland senior international career and send the many thousands of travelling supporters behind Buffon's goal into raptures.

It might have got even better in the final minute of the game when the stranded keeper could only look on imploringly as Glenn Whelan's shot looped up off one of his defenders and dropped just wide.

In The end, a solid point for Ireland that keeps them well in the hunt for a World Cup Final spot in South Africa next year.