Ireland plays his part in Irish despair

Last updated : 16 September 2007 By Ben Collins
Having made a superb start to their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland suffered two potentially critical defeats on the road against Latvia and Iceland.

They scored an own goal in each game and then were literally fighting amongst themselves on the plane home.

The Republic, meanwhile, looked on course for a much-needed win away to Slovakia last weekend , with Stephen Ireland scoring their opening goal, but the home side snatched a heart-breaking last-minute equaliser.

That was two points dropped by the Republic, although they were hopeful of recouping them with a win in the Czech Republic, which would have taken them joint-second with the hosts in their group.

But the Czechs went ahead early when AC Milan's Marek Jankulovski played a one-two and outpaced City captain Richard Dunne to fire home.

Ireland struck the bar but their hopes were all but over when Reading's Stephen Hunt was shown a harsh red card on the hour mark. The Czechs won 1-0, leaving the Republic's qualification hopes hanging on a thread.

To make matters worse, Ireland almost lost to minnows Georgia at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday, with the Irish hanging on for a 14-10 win.

With all that happening, the Stephen Ireland story just added insult to injury for the Irish. A lot's already been said and written so I'll try to keep it brief.

After starring in the 2-2 draw in Slovakia, Ireland withdrew from the squad for the Czech Republic match. He claimed his maternal grandmother had died and the Irish FA (FAI) hired a private jet so that he could get home ASAP.

It was then thought his paternal grandma had died instead, and there was some ridicule directed at the FAI for initially getting the wrong gran.

However, it soon emerged that neither of Ireland's grandmothers had died - in fact, his girlfriend had suffered a miscarraige.

Ireland came clean and issued the following statement on the City website:{DBD12D53-8346-431D-A04F-5D0F8664DE80}&newsid=471262

Better late than never I suppose, and Ireland seems sincere, but he didn't help himself. It must be a distressing time for them, and either he wasn't thinking straight or he was advised badly.

His girlfriend suggested the grandma story because Ireland might not have been released otherwise, and he went along with it, giving the FAI his maternal grandma's name.

But when they came back to him saying she was alive, surely it was time to 'fess up'. Instead, he gave the name of his paternal gran, and sure enough, the FAI discovered she was alive too.

City boss Sven is confident Ireland still has an international future because of his undoubted talent - I'm not so sure. He made the FAI look incompetent and then gave them a big slap in the face.

It remains to be seen if he is truly forgiven and gets a second chance, but one thing's for certain, the 21-year-old sure has some growing up to do yet.