Irwin ruled out of Malta clash


Denis Irwin, the Manchester United full back, yesterday conceded that he has no chance of recovering from his latest injury in time for the Republic of Ireland's European championship meeting with Malta at Lansdowne Road next Wednesday.

The worst came to the worst for Irwin when a specialist's report revealed that the lateral ligament damage in his knee, sustained during last Saturday's 3-0 win over Southampton, was more serious than originally anticipated.

He has now been advised that he will not be able to resume light training until the end of next week and can expect to be out of football until the end of the month.

"Obviously, I am very disappointed, for after missing a couple of months of last season with an injury I got during the European game against Feyenoord, I was hoping for a long settled run this season," he said.

"At the moment, I cannot bend my knee but once the swelling goes down, I should have a better idea of when I can get back to work. It comes at a bad time as Manchester United have some important games coming up and I was looking forward to playing in them.

"From an Ireland point of view, it is a consolation that the game in Belgrade, which I would otherwise have missed, has been postponed. That match is probably the most important we will play in the European championship and I like to think that I will have a few club games under my belt by the time Mick McCarthy names his squad for it."

The injury means that Irwin, one of three short-listed players for Ireland's Player of the Year award, due to be named next Sunday, must forego the chance of reaching a personal landmark with a 50th international appearance against Malta. It is the second setback for

McCarthy who is already committed to replacing the injured Liverpool defender, Phil Babb. Although the extent of Babb's injury remains unclear, he will almost certainly be out for at least another 10 days.

The players in line to benefit in the short term are Gary Breen and Jeff Kenna, a second-half substitute against Croatia, who is likely to be preferred to the uncapped Tottenham player, Steve Carr, for the task of replacing Irwin at right back.

The Irish Soccer Referees Society is to be represented for the first time on the FAI Council, following their decision to affiliate directly with the Association. The vote to affiliate, taken at a recent meeting of the Society, was said to be overwhelming.

"We welcome the referees' decision to affiliate," said Bernard O'Byrne, the FAI's chief executive. "We view the move as good for referees and for the game itself."

Meanwhile, Croatia will be without three first-choice players for their Group Eight clash with Malta on Saturday. However, Davor Suker is likely to make a return to international duty. Central defenders Igor Stimac of Derby County and Juventus's Igor Tudor picked up injuries in training while striker Goran Vlaovic has not sufficiently recovered from knee surgery.

Already ruled out are Lazio's Alen Boksic and Everton's Slaven Bilic.

Croatia Zagreb's Mario Tokic is likely to replace Stimac, club-mate Danijel Saric is expected to deputise for Stanic on the right side of the midfield, while uncapped young striker Jurica Vucko of Hajduk Split will most probably partner Suker up front.

Northern Ireland striker and caretaker manager at QPR, Iain Dowie, in Belfast training for Saturday's clash with Finland, has claimed he will be given a coaching job at Loftus Road if he managerial application is rejected.

Dowie took over the reins after Ray Harford left the club last week and has been interviewed for the vacant post by the QPR board.

"They will now go away and make a decision on who they want to run the club. What seems to be the case is that I will be part of the managerial set-up whatever happens."