Brendan Moran-Sportsfile

Stephen Hunt, flanked by Kerry footballer Tommy Walsh and Leinster Rugby Shane Horgan at the launch of the Mars ‘Summer of Sport’ campaign in Dublin last week. Text MARS to 51500 to be in with a chance of winning one of €20,000 worth of Lifestyle sports vouchers. | Photo: Brendan Moran-Sportsfile

Stephen Hunt spent the weekend before last in Waterford. He returned immediately after the Republic of Ireland’s draw in Sofia and enjoyed some quality time with his family before heading to Dublin to be present at the launch of the Mars Summer of Sport campaign on Tuesday of last week along with the Leinster Heineken Cup winner, Shane Horgan and the Kerry footballer, Tommy Walsh.

“This is the second year that I have been involved with Mars and they are a good company to be involved with. I enjoy it very much and hopefully I will be invited again next year,” the Clonea-Power man said.

The season just finished has been something of a rollercoaster ride for Stephen, a fact he was only to keen to acknowledge. “Missing out on promotion with Reading was hard to take but at the end of the day we have only ourselves to blame. Burnley deserved their victory over us and fair play to them for going on to get promotion by beating Sheffield United in the final.

“I have three years left on my contract at Reading. That is the situation right now and I will give them my all if I am still there next season but I would love to get back into the Premiership as soon as possible.

“This is the time of year where you hear bits and pieces all over the place. I took up a newspaper yesterday and I was being linked with Everton and Sunderland but I have heard nothing.

“Honestly, I have not got a clue right now what is happening. I am going to Las Vegas with my brother Noel for a few weeks and I will see what pans out when I return.”

Stephen has a close bond with Noel and he admitted that he missed his younger brother during the final and vital few weeks of the season, both at club and at international level.

“His injury came at a terrible time because we needed him at Reading during the last few games of the season. We found it difficult to score and I am sure he would have got us a few which could have made a big difference.

“He was unlucky to miss out on the game against Bulgaria as well. We had to bring in players like Leon Best and I have no doubt that he would have been involved, especially after his display against Italy away. Hopefully he will be fully recovered very shortly and ready to play for both the club and Ireland again.”

Good or bad feeling?

Stephen Hunt believes that the Republic of Ireland can actually win their group and qualify for the World Cup in South Africa without having to get involved in a play-off lottery.

“We want to try and win the group because when we play to form we are a good side. Little mistakes especially against Bulgaria on two occasions have proved costly. We were disappointed not to have won the game in Sofia. Their goal knocked us for the rest of the game.

“There is a lot of ifs and buts right now but we must go to Cyprus and try and win there. A win out there would give us great confidence to carry on for the other games.”

The Stephen Ireland saga rumbles on and on and Stephen would appear to be getting rather tired talking about the Cobh-born player’s continued absence from the Irish squad.

“I don’t think he’ll come back,” said the former Carrick United player. “Perhaps we should forget about it until the group games have finished. However, if the manager thinks it would be good for the team then I would go along with that, as indeed would the rest of the players in the squad.

“The gaffer [Giovanni Trapattoni]is a very good manager and I have learnt a lot of different things from him, things I did not know before he became the boss. When it comes to the Stephen Ireland situation it is not up to people like me make the decision on whether he comes back or not, but a lot of players have been involved to date in the group games and we have to remember that. We are in a good position right now and the belief in the team is very good.”

As he looked foward to his trip to the Nevada desert, Stephen admitted that he longs for the day when five Waterford players would play together for the Republic of Ireland. “I really believe that it is possible that one day all five of us will play for our country: John O’Shea, Daryl Murphy, Eddie Nolan, Noel and myself. What a great day that would be for the Waterford Schoolboy League.

“I was delighted that Eddie got the call-up for the game [against Nigeria] in London before we left for Bulgaria and he is a real prospect for the future.”

Stephen had to face more interviews from the national media, during which he admitted that both he and Reading have agreed that it’s time he left “a fresh challenge” – subject to an offer being forthcoming.

With the strong possibility that Ireland will make it to South Africa next year, football in the top tier of English football would stand to him greatly during the World Cup finals – with or without his namesake Mr Ireland!