Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne has handed Giovanni Trapattoni a huge boost and returned to training after his recent shoulder injury.
Dunne is expected to make his Villa comeback in the next week, and club boss Alex McLeish is delighted with his progress.
McLeish said, “It’s good news regarding Richard. He has rejoined the group for training. If he doesn’t make the game at West Brom this weekend, he should be ready for the Tottenham match.
“With a guy like Dunnie, and with what the modern day physical trainers and medical people do, the aim is to try and get the player up to speed so he can go straight back into the side.
“There should be plenty of preparation work for Dunnie so he can step straight back in.”
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli has confirmed that controversial Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli will be in the squad that faces Ireland at the Euro finals this summer.
“I never really thought of doing this without Balotelli, as he is a focal point of the national team,” said Prandelli, who left the striker out of his squad earlier this year for disciplinary reasons.
“Have I made peace with Balotelli? Yes, although to be honest we never argued in the first place. I was pleased that he took responsibility with his statements after the latest incident at Manchester City. I like those who stand up and accept responsibility for their actions.”
Meanwhile, Ireland and Sunderland defender John O’Shea believes James McClean is going to be a “very special” player for club and country for years to come.
“James is going the right way about it and doing his talking on the pitch. If the manager does pick him all well and good,” said O’Shea as speculation mounts that Trapattoni could bring McClean to the Euros.
“To be able to cope with coming from the League of Ireland and not having a break, because he had a full season with Derry, and to carry on and kick on, shows how good he is.
“It is not just mentally, but physically as well. He has been able to cope with the demands of the Premier League. He has been a special player for us. It is an exciting thing for the fans to be talking about and to be seeing him playing the way he has been in the Premier League.
“The manager has his squad in mind and James is going the right away about it to get a chance of going to the Euros.”
YOUNGSTER Tony Watt made a sensational first start for Celtic with two goals in the league win over Motherwell on Sunday and could now face Rangers this weekend.
“He is definitely going to be in our thoughts,” said coach Johan Mjallby afterwards.
“If the boy comes on and scores twice for you in a very tough game against Motherwell then obviously he is going to be in our thoughts.
“We had Georgios Samaras out, Anthony Stokes didn’t get on, we have Mo Bangura, Pawel Brozek and Gary Hooper, so competition is there.
“But we have had our eyes on Tony for some time. He has done really well for the under-19s and the development team.
“He is a strong, powerful boy and obviously he likes to get into the box and score goals.
“We are delighted for him. The main thing is he has to keep his feet in the ground but the lad has a great future.”
Midfielder Joe Ledley applauded Watt’s full debut, and said there is more talent coming through the ranks at Parkhead.
“All the players and coaching staff are very pleased for him,” said Ledley. “He has a great future ahead of him, he is a goal scorer.
“He got his chance and took it with both hands so we are buzzing for him. And there is a lot like him. We have a good youth set-up at Celtic and that is the way forward.
“We still have Dylan McGeouch who wasn’t in the squad bur he is a great player. There is a lot of good future players at this club.”
Manager Neil Lennon began his two game touchline ban against Motherwell. Mjallby added, “You are always going to miss him because he is so passionate but the main thing was that we got back to winning ways.”
Rangers meanwhile have suspended Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty for two weeks after a training ground bust-up with manager Ally McCoist.
The Scottish Football Association has also hit Rangers with a series of punishments, including a 12-month transfer embargo.
SLIGO stretched their lead at the top of the Airtricity Premier League when they won 1-0 away to Cork on Friday night. Shamrock Rovers were held to a 2-2 draw by hosts Bray, while St. Pats beat UCD 2-0.
Roddy Collins celebrated his return to Dalymount Park as Monaghan United beat Bohs 2-1. Dundalk won 2-1 away to Derry and Drogheda beat Shels 3-1.
In other news, Derry City and Crusaders have booked their places in the Setanta Cup final at the expense of Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers respectively.
Irish boxer Adam Nolan wins gold
IRELAND’S Adam Nolan made it a week to remember as he took the gold medal at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Turkey.
Nolan will now join four other Irish boxers at the London games in August when Paddy Barnes, John Joe Nevin, Darren O’Neill and Michael Conlan at the games.
“For the last four years I’ve been working to get to here. Thankfully today it’s eventually come,” said police officer Nolan after he guaranteed his Olympic spot.
“I’m going to go home and enjoy this victory with my family, friends and a few colleagues over the next few weeks. But I’ll have to sit down with my bosses in Bray and see where I go for the next couple of months.
“The next couple of months are going to be a hectic schedule, but up until now they’ve looked after me very well. So, hopefully, I can sort something out for the next couple of months. Please, God.
“I suppose it’s going to be all hands on deck between now and the Olympics. So, I suppose I’ll be looking for a couple of months off between now and the Olympics.
“I just want to concentrate on my training and preparing the best that I can for the Olympic Games.”
Nolan and the rest of the Irish team received a hero’s welcome when they landed at Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s five of us qualified for the Olympics now and it’s great,” added the Wexfordman.
“Our aim before the worlds in Baku last year was five, so I suppose we’ve reached our target you know. It’s great there’s the five of us going.”
SNOOKER: Ireland’s Ken Doherty was beaten 10-4 by Australia’s Neil Robertson at the world championships in Sheffield on Sunday. Ulster’s Mark Allen is in trouble with the game’s governing body after accusing Chinese players of cheating . . .
RUGBY: Munster drew 20-20 away to the Scarlets in the Celtic League on Saturday while Connacht scored a late winner in their 19-16 victory over Aironi. Leinster were too good for Ulster in Friday night’s derby clash at Ravenhill . . .
RUGBY: Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip and Isa Nacewa are all back in the Leinster squad for Sunday’s Heineken Cup semifinal away to Clermont-Auvergne in France. Eoin O’Malley is still a fitness doubt with a calf injury . . .
RUGBY: Ulster expect to have Paddy Wallace and Pedrie Wannenburg fit for Saturday’s Heineken Cup semifinal against Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium but Chris Henry and Paul Marshall remain injury worries . . .
GOLF: Rory McIlroy remains at number one in the latest world rankings with Graeme McDowell at 11th, Darren Clarke at 69th and Padraig Harrington at 84th . . .
RUGBY: St. Mary’s are the new AIL League champions after a last-gasp win over Young Munster on Saturday.