Back in the fold and raring to go
Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and Anthony Stokes out to make up for lost time
Darron Gibson and Andy Reid during the Republic of Ireland training session at Gannon Park, Malahide, yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Day three of the squad’s preparations for tomorrow night’s encounter with Germany and still the sight of Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and Anthony Stokes out on the Malahide pitch causes a blink or two. A sight for sore eyes, their admirers would argue, all three back in the international fold after much-debated absences of varying lengths.
At 31, the eldest of the trio by six years, Reid is the one most likely to have wondered if he’d ever get the chance again to add to his caps, the prospect of winning his 27th tomorrow, then, evidently delighting him.
“Listen, it would mean the same as it meant to me the very first time I pulled on an Ireland shirt when I was 14, or something like that. It meant the world to me every time I played and it’s no different now. Probably even more so, after the break that I’ve had,” he smiles.
Gibson, too, is just eager to move on and put the Giovanni Trapattoni era behind him. “It’s great to be back in,” says the Derry man, who’s hoping to win his 20th cap against Germany, suggesting there might have been some grigging from his team-mates after the end of his self-imposed exile . “They’ve been quite bad with me,” he laughed – but all’s well. “I thought they’d be alright, and they have been.”
“It’s been good,” says Reid of his return. “There’s been a nice atmosphere around the place, a determination and I think everybody wants to roll up their sleeves and have a go. I suppose it’s been a little bit strange after so long, but everybody has welcomed me back in. It’s been nice, yeah. There was always a great camaraderie and a good feeling about the place, and that remains the same.”
Late night sing-song
Remarkably, it will be six years next month since Reid last played for Ireland, his ‘run-in’ with Trapattoni after that late night sing-song in Wiesbaden in September the assumed cause of his exile – although, the manager always denied it.
“I suppose there’s a little bit of irony in the whole Germany thing popping up for me again,” he smiles.
‘And Cologne isn’t too far away from Wiesbaden.’
“Where’s that? I’ve no idea where that is,” he laughs.
There have, naturally enough, been plenty of changes in the Irish set-up since he was last involved. “One thing I have noticed is that things are a lot more professional than maybe they have been in the past,” he says. “Things like our recovery drinks, all the different bits of nutritional stuff that goes with it, but I suppose that’s just football moving on in general. The medical staff have moved on too and they’ve improved things vastly.” The squad? “I think it’s probably a transitional period at the moment, integrating new young players in with some experience. That’s the nature of football, it evolves all the time and there are always people coming through. There’s definitely a lot of talent and ability in the squad and I think the team can only get better when these players get a bit more experience in club and international football.”
But Germany, he acknowledges, will be a test like few others, Gibson feeling the same, not least with the memory of that 6-1 mauling in Dublin still fresh enough.
“Did you watch it?”
“I did, unfortunately. It wasn’t a good night.”
“What went wrong,” he’s asked. “Well, everything obviously.”
Fair point. “But we’re not thinking about the last game, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to get our tactics right and hopefully they’ll work for us. We’re not going to go there and just bow down to them because of the last result. We want to go there to try our best to get a win. And the lads will respect Noel (King) and try and get a result for him.”
Both players, then, wait to see if King names them in his starting line-up, in which case their international ‘returns’ will be complete.
“Take aside everything – myself and the lads coming back – the main focus has got to be on the game,” says Reid. “It would be easy to get wrapped up in all the other little bits and pieces that surround it, but it’s about the game and it’s important everybody focuses on that. And if selected I’ll go and do my best.
“We’re a small nation, we’ve always been the underdog when we play against the top teams, and more times than not we’ve given a good account of ourselves. When our backs are against the wall, that’s sometimes when the Irish team pulls out a performance that nobody expects.”