Hunt has lost none of his enthusiasm as he vows to bounce back from adversity
He has played less than a game’s worth of competitive football in the last six months but Stephen Hunt remains determined to battle back into the plans of Wolves manager Sate Solbakken and Giovanni Trapattoni when he returns to action in the new year.
The Norwegian has said the midfielder can leave Molineux while the Italian has seemed indifferent regarding his international future, but Hunt is adamant he can and will play a role for both men once he is fit.
The winger is recovering from a hip operation and he is, with a little luck, about six to eight weeks away from starting to play again.
Solbakken suggested in August that the Irishman would play no major part in his plans and Hunt admits he would have accepted that and moved on if a suitable offer from a top-flight club had come in. Now, he says, he is focused on changing the Norwegian’s mind.
“He said to me he wanted to see the Stephen Hunt he’d seen the season before last and not towards the back end of last season when I wasn’t 100 per cent fit,” says the 31-year-old who was in Dublin yesterday to promote Blue Square Bet’s sponsorship of the Durkan Memorial Chase Day at Punchestown.
“If he didn’t see that again then he wanted to get rid of me and, to be fair, I was keen to go too. Now, I’d like to prove myself to him.”
Asked if he fears being marginalised when he is fit again, he is adamant: “When I’m fit, I won’t be frozen out,” he says. “I will play . . . If I can’t get into the team now, where it is in the league [I might as well] retire.”
Hunt may have as big a task forcing his way back into the Republic of Ireland set-up, although he points to the generally favourable treatment he received from Trapattoni in advance of the European Championships. He started rarely enough for the Italian but generally got to play a part when fit, something he expected would continue in Poland.
“Maybe Trapattoni had seen I wasn’t 100 per cent fit but I still think I should have played certain parts of it, for sure.”
He says he was told he would feature against Italy but that Trapattoni didn’t see him as a player to bring on when Ireland were trailing, a view he accepted even though he disagreed. Ultimately, he was “heartbroken”.
“Now, there’s a friendly in February which I’d love to play in but,” he adds with surprising certainty. “We’re going to Sweden and if I can get back playing five or six games before that, then I’ll be there. I’ve no doubt that the manager believes in me.”
A little obsessive
He has, he says, become a little obsessive in the quest for fitness and talks enthusiastically about food and fitness regimes. “The boys [at the club] are looking at me like I’m crazy,” he says before undermining that sense of madness by admitting that he has a “cheat day” once a week when he can eat whatever he wants.
There was certainly some surprise when he revealed he is taking 36 tablets a day as part of his recovery plan.
His initial suggestion that they are slimming pills provided little reassurance and when asked if this was really advisable he replied: “I’m getting them off our sports scientist so hopefully . . . I like to think it is.”
He is funny as always about Noel, his brother at Reading, whose career is going better than his own. “I’m a little bit bitter alright,” he says with a laugh before making it fairly plain how proud he is of his sibling.
His best line comes when he is asked whether he might consider management when he hangs up his boots. He might, he says with an apparently straight face, although if he does he believes he would be like Arsene Wenger, someone who “would say very few words but be very observant”.
He’s been talking non-stop for over half an hour at this stage and the scale of enthusiasm makes him hard to doubt sometimes. Nobody, however, is buying that one.