Stephen Ireland says Ireland return could be on the cards
Midfielder will assess his options as career revival continues at Stoke
Ahmed Elmohamady of Hull City challenges Stephen Ireland of Stoke City during the Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium. Photograph: Paul Thomas/Getty Images
Stephen Ireland believes that his revival as a Premier League player with Stoke could lead to a return to international football.
The 27-year-old from Cork has not played for the Republic of Ireland since 2007 after withdrawing from a squad for a game against the Czech Republic. He initially claimed one of his grandmothers had died, then the other, before eventually admitting neither had and citing a personal problem as the reason.
Ireland was a rising star at Manchester City at that stage, but his career stalled at the club before a disastrous spell at Aston Villa.
A season-long loan move to the Britannia Stadium reunited him with Mark Hughes, his manager for a time at City, and Ireland believes his form for Stoke may also lead to developments for his international career, with assistant boss Roy Keane recently indicating Ireland could return to the fold.
And asked if he had spoken to Keane or Martin O’Neill, Ireland said: “I’ve had some brief contact with them, but nothing major about my future or returning.
“That’ll be in the near future. It’s something we can have a chat about, we’ll have to assess it then.”
Asked if he felt ready for an international return, Ireland added: “Yes, I think so.
“The more I play for Stoke and the more consistency I get, the more I can start looking at those options.”
With talks ongoing over a new deal to extend Ireland’s stay with the Potters, the midfielder is optimistic he has only just begun repaying their faith in him.
With the loan being made into a permanent arrangement in January, Ireland has become an increasingly important part of a Stoke side that are gunning for the club’s first-ever top-10 Premier League finish.
And asked if would be fair to say that Hughes had rescued his career, Ireland said: “Absolutely – those are the first words that came out of my mouth when I got the call from Stoke.
“I would’ve done anything to get the chance to come here. I’m really grateful that I have.
“I’m starting to find my feet now and get my instincts, sharpness, hunger and passion back.
“My time at Villa wasn’t very nice – you’re going to lose a bit of passion when you’re training on your own for six months.
“When you’re on your own with a football for that amount of time, you wonder what direction you’re going to go in. What direction can you go in?
“My hands were tied. But thankfully I’ve come here and things are starting to go good.
“The Villa thing is a really long, strange story, purely because I had five managers in two-and-a-half seasons.
“For some reason, as soon as they walked through the door, they decided I wasn’t for them – no matter about all my good intentions. It didn’t matter.
“In the summer, it was difficult for me to know where I was going to be.
“Would I be playing in the Championship? Would I be going on loan? I really didn’t know where my future was going to be.
“I just thank Stoke for bringing me in and taking care of me, and I want to repay them with my performances.
“I really cherish my chance here and would like to secure my future for as long as possible.”
Regarding discussions over a new contract, Ireland said: “Talks have been going on for a while, but there’s no pressure from me or the club at the moment. I think something will be done pretty soon.”
Although he has already put in a number of impressive performances for Stoke, Ireland has stressed he expects more from himself and is confident he can deliver if he sticks with the Potters.
“I still get very frustrated with myself, because I have high expectations,” he said.
“I know there’s a lot more to come from me – a lot, lot more.
“That excites me. I have a good future ahead if I stay at Stoke.”
Ireland admits he has a special relationship with Hughes.
“Every single manager and player has got their favourites and this is no different,” Ireland said.
“I seem to play better for him and vice versa, he seems to help me and get the best out of me. It’s one those relationships that seems to work.”