Friday night confirmed where the Republic of Ireland’s and Anthony Stokes’ level is
The Celtic striker was once a source of hope but struggled to fulfil his potential like a lot of the international players
Ireland’s Anthony Stokes gets his shot away but it’s saved by Manuel Neuer.
Onward then, with Anthony Stokes apparently at the wheel. If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought, it’s worth remembering that there was a time when we imagined that this is how it would all end up anyway. That come this point in his life – just turned 25 and with seven years a pro tucked away – Anthony Stokes would be a safeish bet as the Ireland centre-forward. He was the ‘Yeah, but . . .’ at the end of countless grim colloquies on the whole Steve Staunton caper.
It’s true. In the months after the 5-2 defeat to Cyprus in 2006, it was Stokes who offered up the sole flickering candle in the dark. Then an 18-year-old on loan from Arsenal, he knocked in two hat-tricks in a week for Falkirk in the SPL. Despite moving to Sunderland in the January window, his 14 goals in 16 games in Scotland meant he ended that season as the fourth highest scorer in the league. For context, Kris Boyd of Rangers topped the charts with 20 in 32.
On the back of it, Stokes found himself the latest and youngest of a species of Irish footballer that would propagate and flourish as the seasons rolled and the national side rolled over. Absentus Ameliorus – a hardy annual whose reputational growth spurts come in direct proportion to time spent outside the Ireland squad. He was 18 and he was a goalscorer who hadn’t yet had a chance to disappoint anyone. Nobody was stingy with their predictions.
By February 2007, he got his call-up. Out of respect for the victims, we’ll draw a discreet veil over the match itself (it was against San Marino, you may have heard about it at the time) but it’s worth lingering on that Ireland squad. Staunton named seven uncapped players – Stokes, Shane Long, Stephen Hunt, Darron Gibson, Andy Keogh, Stephen Quinn and Darren Randolph.
Quinn and Randolph didn’t get a game until well into Trap’s time but Long (41 caps), Hunt (39), Keogh (30) and Gibson (20) have all since had their say and a couple of them will again. As for Stokes, Friday night was his fifth cap. The idea that Keogh, who had just moved from Scunthorpe to Wolves for £600,000, would earn six times as many caps as Stokes was not one you’d have had many takers for in 2007.
You wouldn’t have believed a lot of things about Anthony Stokes’s next six and a half years back then. You wouldn’t have believed that the £2m Sunderland had just paid for him would be the last transfer fee he’d command. You wouldn’t have believed that he’d only score six goals in English football – and just one in the Premier League.
You certainly wouldn’t have believed that of all the paths a young Irish player could take at that time, Stokes would choose the one that deliberately antagonised his then club manager Roy Keane. After that solitary Premier League goal, Keane used his post-match press conference to warn his player against the perils of late-night partying.