Professional footballer Stephen Ireland has opened up on his exile from the Republic of Ireland national side.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Sam Lee of The Athletic, the former Manchester City midfielder spoke at length about the early days of his career, his fallout with various managers and his low-key lifestyle.
However, what was most interesting was Ireland speaking for the first time since his international exile 12 years ago after the midfielder claimed his granny had fallen ill before claiming he had named the wrong grandmother publicly.
In the end, Ireland was caught in a lie but it was a lie that he told in order to keep news of his wife’s miscarriage from reaching the public.
The six-time capped international claims he spent years making up excuses to get out of Ireland duty so he could look after his kids.
“With the Ireland thing, the first couple of camps I got called up I was the happiest man on the planet. It was like I’d won the lottery, I loved it, it was such an amazing achievement,” Ireland said.
“After that, it became a bit of a circumstance thing. Steven Staunton said I could bring my kids and they would put them in a hotel room with a babysitter, but what kind of life is that for two kids? So I didn’t do it and I had to pick and choose my moments that I could play for Ireland when I couldn’t. I just found the 10-day camps were too much for me to give.
“I remember I was playing live on TV for City, I was meant to fly out that night with Richard Dunne to meet up with Ireland, and I’d ring up Steve Staunton after the game and say: ‘I feel sick, I can’t come’. He was like: ‘I just saw you play live on TV!’ I couldn’t sacrifice going to play for Ireland because literally for some reason it became a case of having to pick Ireland over my kids and all day I’m going to pick my kids.”
When news of Ireland’s lie was made public, the story spiralled out of control. The former Stoke City player recalls feeling terrible when his teammates consoled him after hearing news of his grandmother supposed death.
“I just wanted it to blow over and before you know it, it just went boom,” said Ireland
“It was mental. Mental. And I’m thinking: ‘All I said was something small.’ I know it’s not. I know it’s not something you do. It was in the heat of the moment in the changing room after the match. I was buying myself time, basically.
“The other players asked where I was going, so I said: ‘Back to England for a few days because my nan’s not well.’ They were giving me hugs and that and I felt like a prick then. Imagine going back in and saying: ‘Alright lads, listen…'”
Ireland revealed that he considered retiring from football in the wake of the controversy but looking back he feels he should have faced the music rather than running from the problem.
“On reflection, I probably should’ve gone back and faced the music for a couple of days, but I guess I kind of ran from it. I was doing so well at Man City I didn’t want to go back, even more so.
“I wish I had dealt with things differently, that the whole thing was dealt with differently, actually, on both sides, but I wouldn’t say I regret not having played for Ireland since.
“It’s the family thing, as well. I’m such a family person and I just found it very hard. That’s why I respect the guys who do turn up and play 50, 60, 70 times for their country because they were able to make that sacrifice and they were able to show up every time. Unfortunately for Ireland, it’s not that I didn’t care, I just couldn’t do it. That will stick with me forever.”