Supple taking belated international call-up in his stride

Nine years after quitting Ipswich and the game, goalkeeper surprised at development

More used perhaps to springing the surprises, Shane Supple was still getting to grips yesterday with the fact that he has been called up to the Ireland squad for the games against France and the USA. He has, at least, got over his initial suspicion that the entire thing was a wind-up.

“Having played under Roy [Keane] I just thought it was something tongue-in -cheek that he said,” admits the 31-year-old who is pretty sure he is heading to France on Saturday but still doesn’t sound completely convinced.

“When I got the call off Keith [Long] yesterday afternoon to say that the e-mail had come in I told him to stop taking the ‘Mick’. He sent it onto me then and it was real. This week was mad enough week anyway with the game against Rovers so I’m trying to keep focused on that.”

It might prove tricky although having Graham Burke in the squad too will serve as a bit of a reminder. The pair are in somewhat different positions, though. Burke is still at an age when a move back across the water is a likely priority and the call-up might well help whereas Supple, he says, is content with his lot, having made the decision himself to come home nearly a decade ago.

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“If I was 21 this would have been the best thing ever, not that it’s not great but I was in a different space back then, trying to make my way in the game in England, and this is all that I would have wanted. Now, it’s a bit out of the blue, I wasn’t expecting it and I’m a little bit more relaxed about it. I’m going to go in to enjoy it and give it a lash.”

Supple readily acknowledges that his back story – suddenly leaving Ipswich, entirely disillusioned, and returning home to play for his local GAA team, St Brigids, making the senior Dublin panel, then then edging his way back to soccer – makes his call-up all the more remarkable.

He barely played soccer for six years, he says, and took a long time to reassess his relationship with it.

“I said that I fell out of love with the game and all that,” he observes now, “but I don’t think I ever really fell out of love with the game. I love the game, I love being a goalkeeper. It was the people involved in it who in the end disheartened me.”

The outlook in England, he recalls, was, first and foremost, about self-preservation, both for players and their coaches, and after wanting so desperately to make a life in the professional game there, he couldn’t wait to get home and back to a culture that involved a club feeling more lie a community.

Really special

It has worked out rather well. He helped St Brigids to the county championship, they reached a Leinster final and Supple played a couple of league games for Dublin although he never seriously threatened to dislodge Stephen Cluxton and ultimately didn’t want to settle for being his number two.

“When I went back into the club I was part of something really special,” he says. “I would have loved to play for Dublin, that was part of the aim, but I knew the score with Cluxton.”

He got an All-Ireland winner's medal in 2013 but says that, having not felt as though it was earned, he is not even sure where it is. When Jim Gavin asked him to rejoin the squad the following year, he declined, opting instead to concentrate on his club football and, in the end, start playing soccer again. Bohemians, he suggests, has a bit of a GAA feel about it.

He has, in short, “done everything on my own terms,” and has no regrets about leaving either Dublin or Ipswich, the latter a huge part of his life that he retains almost no connection with now.

“That’s the game,” he says. “Somebody said to me when I was younger: ‘If you have three friends after you’re finished in the game, you’ll be doing well.’ The people I kept in contact with in England were the people I knew outside of the game that I kind of befriended over there, Irish people who were good to me and who I could talk to to get away from football, meeting up with them or popping out to their house. So they were the people I would have kept in touch with, more so than the players I played with.”

"Jonny Walters stayed with me for three months after joining Ipswich, though, until he got his house sorted. I have a lot of time for Jonny, for the person he is and the player he is so it will be nice to see him again but I don't think there's too many others."

And so, despite being the wrong side of 30, he’ll be meeting almost all the members of the Ireland squad for the first time on Thursday and Keane for the first time since he went to the Corkman’s office and asked him to help bring an end to his professional career.

“I haven’t seen him since that day,” he says. It will be nice to meet up and thank him properly.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times