Pilkington: We have 'great chance' of qualifying for Brazil
He might not have hooked up with his international teammates yet, but new boy in green Anthony Pilkington believes Ireland have a ‘great chance’ of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup despite a less than promising start to the campaign.
Pilkington, who received his Irish passport yesterday ahead of his imminent debut against Poland next Wednesday evening at the Aviva Stadium, believes the influx of new faces, including Norwich City teammate Wes Hoolahan, can help them over the line.
“I think we've got a great chance,” he said of the qualification campaign, which resumes with a pivotal double header with Sweden and Austria at the end of March. “We've got a really good squad with new faces coming in, the likes of Wes who'll make any team better when he plays.
“And there's some really good young players as well as the experienced lads in there. So I think we've got the kind of squad than can challenge and hopefully we can put the performances in that will see us over the line.”
The Blackburn-born attacking midfielder is expected to start on Wednesday, putting an official end to a long line of speculation over his international selection.
Pilkington had, according to several reports, wanted to play for England as a youngster, but after it became clearer that his dream to represent the Three Lions was unlikely to be realised, he decided, once the FAI made contact, to become the latest to avail of the granny rule – his father’s mother is from Dublin.
But had he wished the call-up for Ireland had come a bit earlier than 2013? “Yeah, definitely. I hoped it would have been a bit sooner but obviously it wasn't to be. But I've been working hard and the manager has seen what I can do this season and hopefully I can prove that to everyone in Ireland if I get a chance on Wednesday.”
If, for some reason he didn’t feature against Poland, would he change his mind? “Definitely not. That’s it now. I made my mind up that I wanted to play for Ireland and that's what it will be from now on.”
As for England, while it was a boyhood dream, there was never any official contact made with the FA: “There were little bits and pieces in the press but I never spoke to anyone from that side. People were saying ‘why hasn't he declared for one side?’ but I hadn't spoken to either the FAI or the English set-up. And as soon as Ireland did get in touch, that's when I made my mind up that I wanted to play for them.”
Pilkington will travel to the Irish team’s usual training base for the week in Malahide with clubmate Hoolahan. Needless to say, the Dubliner is someone Pilkington greatly admires – especially if they keep combining for goals like Wednesday’s opener at home to Spurs.
“He's real quality,” he says of Hoolahan. “Some of the things he does with the ball and some of the situations he gets out of, his passing and dribbling – he's a really good player. The Norwich fans call him 'Wessi' down here, like Messi. He may not get as many goals but he plays in the pocket and he's really dangerous there and creates so many goals for the team. I can't speak highly enough of him – he's probably the best player I've played with up to now.”
Pilkington earned his call-up after impressing Giovanni Trapattoni when the Italian watched him in action for Norwich on a couple of occasions before Christmas. But it’s important to remember that the green connection at Norwich extends far beyond Hoolahan and Pilkington, with former Irish defender Chris Hughton the manager and potential goalkeeper Mark Bunn also at Carrow Road.
On Bunn, who has stepped up to the plate for the Canaries following John Ruddy’s injury, Pilkington says the keeper has considered joining up with Ireland if called upon: “I've not talked to him at great length about it but he was definitely considering it. I don’t know whether he's pushed it on or not just yet but I know he was thinking about it.”
Hughton, meanwhile, had advised the 24 year-old to go with Ireland when he consulted him. ““Yeah, he said it would be a good move and he talked to me a little bit about the country and about the fans and the set-up. And he congratulated me as soon as I got the news.”