AT 32, KEITH Andrews has become one of the elder statesmen of the Irish squad. Shay Given and Damien Duff have hung up their international boots, for now anyway, and with manager Giovanni Trapattoni set to blood some young faces against Poland, the Dubliner has found himself bumped up the seniority ranks.
Is he worried about being squeezed out by the influx of new talent? No, Andrews has been around long enough to know that he needs to focus on those things he can can control and trust that the rest will look after itself.
And so the Bolton Wanderers midfielder, who misses tomorrow’s friendly through injury but was home in Dublin to collect the 3 / FAI Senior International Player of the Year award, is concentrating on getting himself fit for the qualifying double-header against Sweden and Austria.
Andrews limped out of Bolton’s draw with Crystal Palace last month with what was initially thought to be a thigh strain, but later revealed to be a quad muscle tear. The prognosis left a question mark over his fitness for the March games but he’s confident that everything is on track.
“It’s a muscle injury I haven’t had before and it’s earmarked that I should be back before then. I’ll certainly be working very, very hard to get it right. Early signs are good.”
With Andrews out, Trapattoni is expected to try Derby County’s Jeff Hendrick tomorrow night, while Wigan’s James McCarthy has made himself at home in the Irish midfield of late.
Rather than seeing these youngsters as a personal threat in an already crowded position, Andrews sees it as a positive move by the manager.
“It’s very much needed. It certainly keeps us oldies on our toes anyway.
“We’ve people like James McCarthy in the squad playing very, very well. I’m a big fan of his. Just in general, himself, Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady, they’ve brought another dimension around the place.
We lost some big players in the summer with Shay and Duffer retiring and it’s going to be very hard to replicate those players and the experience they had, but the young players have come in and brought something different.
Instead of playing chess with Duffer, I’m now playing Mario Kart with Robbie Brady. Things have changed slightly.
And who is winning?
“He is,” Andrews laughs. “Easily.”
Another player who is finally getting his chance after a long time in the international wilderness is Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan. In the November friendly against Greece, Andrews got a chance to see first hand what Hoolahan can offer Ireland.
I know what a good player Wes is but when you play with him, you just have that extra pass, you don’t have to try and find it. It’s just there, it’s easy, it’s an extra pass and then defensively we’re a little bit more solid.
For me, Wes isn’t just an impact player. Wes is a proper, proven Premier League player. He’s a very intelligent player who can play in numerous positions.
“What way the manager sees that, I’m not too sure whether he’ll go 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, whatever you want to call it. It’s entirely up to the manager but certainly Wes is playing as well as anyone in the squad.”
“There’s nothing you can do about [the competition for places],” he adds.
“Possibly when I was younger I would have worried a little bit more but you can’t affect anything like that. The only thing I can affect is getting myself fit, sharp, strong, back on the pitch as soon as I can.
“The manager knows everything I’m about. If I was playing on Wednesday, I’m not going to be showing the manager anything new at this stage in my career that he hasn’t seen already. The manager knows he can trust me and he’s been very good to me in terms of selection throughout my career.
“For the progression of Irish football, we need new players in the squad.”