Hughes: 'Too soon' for Stephen Ireland international return

A new duo may now be in charge of the Ireland national team but Stoke manager Mark Hughes believes it's 'too soon' for Stephen Ireland to return to the fold
Stoke City manager Mark Hughes says Stephen Ireland is not ready to return to international football just yet and must focus on his Premier League career with the Potters.

Ireland's recent good form for Stoke, including a goalscoring performance against Swansea, has led to widespread calls for his return to the Irish set-up under Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.

However, Hughes, who also coached the midfielder at Manchester City, believes Ireland has a long way to go before being considered for international football.

"Stephen’s doing OK but he's is not quite at the level that he was at two or three years ago," Hughes disclosed ahead of Stoke's clash with Sunderland. "In terms of international football I think it is too soon to be perfectly honest.

"I think he just needs to concentrate on getting back on track in terms of playing football week in week out and it is important for Stephen to just concentrate on playing Premier League football."

Hughes praised the form of striker Jon Walters, who recently played his 100th game in a row for Stoke and captained Ireland in their 0-0 draw away to Poland last Tuesday night in Poznan.

The Welshman spoke of his delight at the striker's form of late and feels he deserved the honour of leading his country. "It's great for Jon and he’s having a great time of it at the moment," he said.

"We’re delighted for him that he was given the honour of captaining his country as I know how important it is for him, as well as just playing for his country, so he should be absolutely delighted with that."

The former Queens Park Rangers coach also spoke highly of Irish midfielder Glenn Whelan and defender Marc Wilson and stated that he fully expects them to feature heavily in future Irish squads under the management of O’Neill and his assistant Keane.

"Both players had decent amounts of game time last week. Glenn played the first game and was involved in the second and it was vice versa for Marc as well.

"They have been a big part of the Ireland squad for a long time and I see no reason why they won’t continue to do so because they have a lot to offer in terms of their ability and their desire to do well for Ireland.

"I have no doubt that they will be figuring heavily in the next few games."