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Ireland hoping for permanent Stoke deal

Stephen Ireland admits he is playing for his international and domestic future for the remainder of the season at Stoke City.

Stephen Ireland is enjoying his loan spell with Stoke.
Stephen Ireland is enjoying his loan spell with Stoke.

• Whittaker: A point gained

Ireland has been handed a chance to save his Premier League future at Stoke, on a season-long loan by his former Manchester City manager Mark Hughes after being left in the wilderness at Aston Villa by Paul Lambert.

The 27-year-old is already considering the possibility of speaking to Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane about returning to the Republic of Ireland ranks after a long absence from the international stage.

But crucially he knows he has to prove to Hughes that he is worthy of a permanent move to the Britannia Stadium, with his estimated 60,000 pounds-a-week contract with Villa to expire next summer.

After starting the last four games under Hughes and showing glimpses of the form which persuaded Aston Villa to spend eight million pounds on him four years ago, Ireland would love to secure a long-term contract with Stoke.

"I'm in the shop window and it would be perfect to sign for Stoke because I am playing with a smile again. I'm getting game time now and it's nice to be wanted and in a team environment again," Ireland told the Stoke Sentinel.

"This is a big campaign for me because I have to earn a contract, here or somewhere else. That's my target. It's in my hands and my performances will reward me with my next club and contract."

Ireland has always wanted to link-up with Hughes again, because he rates the manager as the best he has ever worked with in his professional career, during their time together at City.

"At Manchester City I played well, but never as well as when he was there because he just allowed me to go out and express myself. The philosophy he wants suits my game and it was music to my ears when he wanted me again for Stoke.

"I've come here and training has been electric every day and every player would say that. In terms of fitness, I feel I've got up to scratch faster than I thought I would have. I thought it would take a couple of months, but it's only taken a few weeks."

The midfielder is hoping the appointment of O'Neill and Keane as Ireland's new management team will boost his chances of an international comeback.

O'Neill was the Villa manager when Ireland moved from City and Ireland added: "I've started four games and I want to make sure I start the next 10 or 15, but at the back of my mind is Ireland. I would like to get together with Martin O'Neill or Roy Keane and have a chat."

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