ANTHONY Stokes’ international career has received a timely boost at the expense of Sunderland team-mate Daryl Murphy, following his shock call-up by the Republic of Ireland.
While Murphy was expressing his unhappiness at the way he has been treated by Eire’s Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday, Stokes was on his way to link up with the national side following the withdrawal of the injured Newcastle winger Damien Duff.
Stokes, who has also spent time at Sheffield United this season, is on loan at Championship side Crystal Palace, but still appears to have moved ahead of Murphy in the pecking order.
While Murphy has largely had to be content with a substitute’s role at the Stadium of Light under Ricky Sbragia, Stokes has started five games on loan at Selhurst Park and has impressed in south London.
Stokes was widely believed to be one of Ireland’s best prospects when he was a youngster at Arsenal.
And, although he has thus far failed to make the anticipated breakthrough at Sunderland following a £2m move in January 2007, the 20-year-old still has plenty of admirers, including assistant manager Liam Brady – who coached him when he was at Arsenal’s academy.
Murphy, though, has been far from impressed with the way things have been handled by Ireland as he complained he had only found out about his omission from the squad for the games against Bulgaria and Italy through the media.
“I know they are not obliged to speak to us when we are not selected,” Murphy said. “But communication is a big thing and it would have been nice to get a quick call.
“As it was, the first I knew was when the squad was announced in the papers and on the telly. It is disappointing.
“Playing for your country is the biggest honour in football and I have been pretty much third-choice striker for Ireland in the last few squads.
“I don’t really see that I have done anything wrong, so I don’t know why I’m not involved this time. I’m not going to sulk about it and I would go and play for Ireland any time at the drop of a hat. But it would have been good to be told that I wasn’t going to be in these squads and why.”
Meanwhile, Sbragia will travel to a number of international games over the next few days to take a look at potential summer transfer targets.
Although Sbragia’s future as Sunderland manager will be decided at the end of the season, according to chairman Niall Quinn, he has always maintained that he has to work under the assumption he will still be in charge in the summer.
He said: “I’ll be away on Friday, Saturday and Sunday watching games in Europe. And then next week I’m planning on taking in the Wales versus Germany game.
“Most of the club’s backroom staff and scouts will be out looking at players and teams. We have earmarked players we feel we could bring in in the summer. It’s just a case of going to have a look at them two or three times before we make a decision.”
:: NORTHERN Ireland’s record scorer David Healy has been backed to re-discover his form and scoring touch at Windsor Park today – despite being mainly a fringe player at Sunderland.
The province will go top of Group Three for a couple of hours at least should they defeat Poland in their World Cup qualifier.
Healy remains crucial to their hopes of making it to South Africa, and former Newcastle defender Aaron Hughes believes the striker will come good, having played alongside him at Fulham.
He said: “David has been fine in training this week. Perhaps he has been a bit unlucky at Sunderland.
“Everyone in Northern Ireland knows what he is capable of. If we give him the right service and get balls into the box, he will find the net.
“That is irrespective of whether he is playing for his club or not. He is a goalscorer, first and foremost – and we hope he will keep it going for us. I am sure he is looking forward to starting a game at this level again.”
Northern Ireland are down on numbers – with Healy’s Black Cats team-mate George McCartney, Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty and Martin Paterson all absent.