Pilkington no pantomime villain as he seeks to play his part for Trapattoni’s Ireland

Norwich player puts regular squad absences down to recurring tendinitis problems

Anthony Pilkington taking a full part in the Republic of Ireland’s squad session at Gannon Park in Malahide, Co Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Anthony Pilkington taking a full part in the Republic of Ireland’s squad session at Gannon Park in Malahide, Co Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 01:00

Anthony Pilkington arrived at Malahide yesterday bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jared Harris’s Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows movie from 2011, with the 25 year-old sporting slicked back hair, thick beard and twirled moustache.

After some of the stick he’s been getting for pulling out of international squads, there are a few out there who reckon the villain thing is appropriate.

Pilkington, though, seems untouched by criticism and explains an ongoing battle with tendinitis has been responsible for the many false starts to his senior international career.

Even this week, he says, he must nurse himself a little if he is to be available to Giovanni Trapattoni when the Italian picks his side to face Sweden.

A start would complete one of the game’s great journeys for the Blackburn-born Norwich player who almost gave up the game as a teenager when the pressure of life as a budding professional all became too much.

So far, though, the manager professes to be undecided as to whether to hand him his debut this Friday.

Richard Dunne and David Forde, he says on the other hand, will both return to the Ireland line-up as long as neither suffers any problems in training.

Marc Wilson is less certain to feature and Greg Cunningham was called into the squad yesterday as cover for the Stoke player who sustained a foot injury at the weekend.

Wilson, like Darren Randolph (thigh), has had a scan and the extent of their problems will be clearer today, although Trapattoni predicts his left back will be available.

“All you want to do is play football,” says Pilkington, meanwhile, despite once walking away from Ewood Park because he wasn’t sure anymore that was what he wanted.

But, he cautions: “I’ve only played 70 minutes in the last two months. I played at Bury last Tuesday and the previous game was in the first week of pre-season.

“I have not played a lot of football and not trained much but I have been working hard in the gym at Norwich with fitness coaches.”

Whether that is enough to play him into the reckoning for such a big game remains to be seen but stranger things have certainly happened.

He, for instance, has ended up playing in the Premier League after going back to study and lining out for his college team, while Sweden coach Erik Hamren said yesterday Mikael Lustig can play for the visitors at the Aviva despite having sustained what initially looked a serious ankle injury at the weekend.

Anxious to be involved
Pilkington is certainly anxious to be involved: “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “It was frustrating getting called up to the squad and having to pull out.

“I think the first time we were playing QPR – an early kick off on Sky – and I had my suitcase packed and was ready. But then I pulled up with a hamstring.

“I was due to fly over with Wes (Hoolahan) that afternoon, so that was disappointing. And after that I’ve been a bit unlucky with the recurring knee problems. But, like I say, hopefully that’s behind me now and I can concentrate on doing well for the country.”

Trapattoni has repeatedly talked up the impact he can have, hailing him as a winger who can score much needed goals and Pilkington feels he can add something alright.

“I’m that type of player and I like getting forward, getting in behind the defence. But whatever the team is going to be on Friday and whatever the formation, the boys will be together and hoping to get the three points.”

The Italian still seemed to be mulling over his options yesterday, mentioning the possibility of playing with three strikers (Simon Cox, Robbie Keane and Jon Walters) or two (Shane Long and Keane) with a fit Pilkington more likely to feature if he goes with the latter.

Trapattoni is seemingly more certain of his plans for the other end of the field, however, with Forde and Dunne set to start.

Asked what had convinced him about Dunne when he travelled to see him play for his club QPR last week, Trapattoni observed:

“I saw the same authority he used to have; the same way that he commanded the defence and the other defenders. I think that we need him for this game, his personality.

“Against a striker like (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic, against strong players like that we need a strong defender like him.”