On Saturday last Stephen Hunt and Eddie Nolan were on opposite sides when Reading and Preston North End played out a scoreless draw in the Coca Cola Championship. Stephen took to the field in a good frame of mind as he had put all of the transfer talk behind him when earlier in the week he signed a new deal with the Royals, making him their joint-top-earner along with best friend Kevin Doyle.
The former Johnville, Carrick United, Crystal Palace and Brentford player had been linked with Everton, Wigan Athletic and Spurs and his disappointment at failing to secure a January return to the Premier League was widely quoted.
All of that is now water under the bridge and Stephen is now fully determined to win promotion with Reading. His younger brother Noel, who missed the previous week’s game against Queens Park Rangers due to an injury he picked up in the vital victory over Wolves, replaced Jimmy Kebe after 71 minutes on Saturday last but he came up against a defender who is really beginning make a name for himself at Preston North End.
Eddie was frozen out at Blackburn when Paul Ince replaced Mark Hughes and without doubt he made the right decision to accept a three-year deal at Deepdale following a successful loan spell at the club.
Preston manager Alan Irvine (who played under Steve Coppell at Crystal Palace) has been loud in his praise of Eddie during the past few weeks and on Saturday last he described the Waterford man as “brilliant.”
When the game finished last Saturday at the Madejski Stadium, the Reading players jumped into their cars and the Preston lads made their way to the team bus. Stephen and Noel Hunt spoke with Eddie for a period of time before they went their separate ways. The Hunts were preparing to travel to Dublin to link up with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Irish squad for the World Cup qualifier against Georgia in Croke Park. Nolan was also making his way to Dublin to join forces with Don Givens’ Under 21s for a game against Germany in Turners Cross on Tuesday.
He was due to captain that team, something he is expected to do on March 27 at the RSC when Ireland play Spain. However, he had to change his plans when Mr Trapattoni called him up to the full squad when Steve Finnan of Espanyol dropped out through injury. Little did the three Waterford players know when they departed the Madjeski Stadium last Saturday that they would actually be training together in Malahide on Monday ahead of the game with Georgia.
The Republic boss had watched the defender play for the second time in recent weeks at Reading, having also seen him in action against Burnley last month.
This was seen as another giant step for Eddie, the former Waterford Bohemians player from Pine Mews. Another former Bohemians player, John O’Shea, is of course now a fixture in the Irish squad with over 50 caps. Happy days for Waterford’s Irish brigade.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be called up,” the De La Salle College old boy said. “I must admit I am quite surprised. I only found out after the game (against Reading), and was shocked really to get the call from the FAI. I would say it is the highlight of my career so far definitely. It is part of the learning curve for me and will be a good experience.”
However, Eddie’s dream was dashed on Monday morning when he was forced to withdraw from international duty due to an injury he picked up against Reading. It was a cruel blow but there’s little doubt that the talented 20-year-old’s time will come again in the not too distant future.