As the Republic of Ireland prepare for their most important match for years, their erstwhile midfielder Stephen Ireland gave a withering account of Giovanni Trapattoni's regime. The Ireland set-up was a misery, the Manchester City player said, because the dominant Dublin clique do not want Cork boys like him around and he is happy not to be involved in the World Cup play-off with France at Croke Park tonight.
"Even now I know for a fact the whole Irish set-up is exactly the same: they pick all the Dublin lads, one or two Cork lads, and the Cork lads are thrown on the back seat and that's basically it," said Ireland, who has retired from the international scene. "It's just wrong. It's not fair because there are a lot of great players who go other ways because of it. Even when I was under-age I didn't want to go training there, I was looking for excuses but I had to. When I got old enough to make my own decisions I knew exactly what I wanted."
It is a point that another son of Cork, Roy Keane, has also made, though the timing of Ireland's observations will cause huge reverberations around his native country.
Ireland's reasons run far deeper than a famous bust-up with coach Brian Kerr when with the Under-16s or even his fateful withdrawal from Steve Staunton's side for the match against Czech Republic in September 2007, which led to his claims that first one grandmother, then another was dead.
The player also says Trapattoni, the Ireland manager, had paid "lip service" to the idea of bringing him back into the fold, to placate the Irish press. "Trapattoni rang me during the summer asking me if we could meet up at some stage," he said. "They had a game the following week against Bulgaria and I thought, 'Maybe he wants me to come to this game.' But he said, 'Maybe [we can meet] three or four months from now' which I thought was strange. Then he said, 'So it's OK if I speak to the press and tell them we chatted.' So I think it was more about him covering his back and having a press conference where he could say, 'I've made the effort, I've spoken to Stephen, blah-di-blah-di-blah."
Ireland denied the widely reported suggestions that he had fled the national scene after being pinned to the floor by team-mates trying to remove a hairpiece he was wearing. Irish tabloid headlines have included: "Hair apparent: how did Stephen go from balding to bushy so quickly?" and the player said the Irish media had contributed to his decision. "Ireland's ridiculous. It's just ridiculous. This is the way it is for them – they can write for only a few days about a good result but they can write for weeks on end about a bad result."
Ireland also disclosed that he has received hate mail because of his decision not to play for the Republic. "I've had a lot of that stuff but it was bound to come," he said. "It's normal and it doesn't faze me at all.
"A lot of people say to my friends, 'Why's Stephen not playing for his country? If I ever see him I'll do this or that to him,' but then if I ever see them they just bottle it. I've had confrontations with people who have said, 'Oh if I see him I'm going to tell him what I think' and then I see them and they're like, 'Oh mate, right decision, don't go back and play for Ireland.' They're always different to my face. My family have had problems too but it's nothing we can't deal with. I have my family in Manchester now, and that's the way it is."
Not even seeing Ireland overcome the French would bring the 23-year-old back. "I'd wish them all the best but it's no skin off my back. They are the ones doing it," he said.
Ireland spent yesterday being driven at high speed around the Yas Marina grand prix track here, before taking lunch in the same hotel as contestants for Miss World. Perhaps it's not surprising he's not missing Dublin after all.