Giovanni Trapattoni has revealed his fear that the great expectations surrounding Stephen Ireland’s international return could be the very thing keeping the Manchester City star away from the national team.

Ireland scored the winning goal for City against Blackburn on Saturday just days after Trap’s team lost their World Cup warm-up game 3-0 to Australia in Limerick.

As he reflected on that poor performance Trap also warned Irish fans to stop treating stay-away Stephen Ireland like a World Cup Messiah.

And the World Cup boss has also admitted for the first time that an Ireland return could lead to tension in his squad.

Trapattoni fears the weight of expectancy being placed on Ireland’s shoulders is too much for the young man from Cobh, Co. Cork.

The Manchester City star has been built up as the nation’s World Cup savior in some quarters ahead of an expected international return.

But Trap is fearful that those very same expectations could force Ireland into a permanent exile from his national team.

“People think that if and when he comes back Stephen Ireland will be a God, he will be the Messiah,” warned Trapattoni in the Irish Star Sunday.

“There is a great weight being placed on him, it is a great responsibility on his shoulders and he is very young.

“All over Ireland people are saying to him, ‘Come in, come in, come in’ and it is not an easy call for him to answer.

“I am sure that in the future he will come back but you have to have the fire, you have to want to play.

“With him there is a great expectancy and it is a great responsibility, not for me but for him.”

Trap also revealed that any potential return for Ireland needs to be handled delicately, almost two years after his last international appearance.

The Man City schemer hasn’t played in a green shirt since the 2-2 draw with Slovakia in Bratislava in September 2007.

Some senior Irish players have claimed any Ireland return will lead to dissent in the ranks from those who have soldiered on without him in the bid to reach South Africa.

And Trapattoni conceded, “You have to be gentle with the squad; you have got to stroke the squad like a cat.

“The squad have got the results so far in the World Cup group and in this instance you have to treat the squad like a cat.

“If you rub a cat in the right place it will purr and everything will be all right but if not.....”

Irish coach Marco Tardelli has also warned Ireland that his international return is entirely in his own hands.

Tardelli is not of the opinion that Trapattoni should make the running in any bid to entice Ireland back to the fold.

“My opinion is that Stephen Ireland has got to call Giovanni Trapattoni and say he wants to come back,” said World Cup winner Tardelli.

“He has to pick up the phone, call Giovanni and say that he wants to play for the Irish team, either on the bench or in the side.

“Stephen Ireland has to say that he has no problem coming back in either circumstance, whether it is in the team or on the substitute’s bench.

“He has to make the call; no one else can do it for him.”

Australia were full value for their Thomond Park win last week when two Tim Cahill goals just before halftime and a late David Carney cracked exposed the frailties of this Irish defense.

But veteran left-back Kevin Kilbane is adamant lessons will be learned ahead of next month’s visit to Cyprus.

“The manager was a little disappointed, he always goes on about concentration and we have to be concentrated through the whole game,” said Kilbane.

“We had a few lapses in the first half and they took advantage of that. They’ve got Tim Cahill and he’s a master of finding space in the box.

“That is something we have to take from the game and learn from. I think probably there’ll be a lot read into the result but we know qualification is what counts next month.

“We’ve used this game as a fitness exercise because we know we want to try and get sharpness going into the season and prepare for the Cyprus game. We will be fitter and stronger then, so we remain calm.”

Trapattoni, who was also keen to play the fitness card after the heaviest defeat of his reign, said: “I am not worried. This is pre-season and many of the players did not have minutes behind them.

“Australia were in 30-40% better condition than us. We deserved to score two goals. Cyprus will be a different game and, for sure, we can play differently. With three or four games in the league, my players will improve.”

Likewise new Fulham winger Damien Duff was none too concerned about the long-term World Cup implications of the friendly defeat.

“It is a disappointing result that we probably didn’t deserve, we had a few chances but it’s good to get it out of the way and move on,” said Duff.

Striker Kevin Doyle is a major doubt for the Cyprus game on September 5 after aggravating a hernia problem during the first-half in Limerick while Trapattoni has admitted that he may consider playing Preston’s Eddie Nolan at left-back in Nicosia.


McGeady’s Goal

AIDEN McGeady has been set a goal scoring challenge by new Celtic boss Tony Mowbray after opening his season’s tally with a double in the 3-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittordrie on Saturday.

The Irish winger almost grabbed a hat-trick as the Bhoys enjoyed the perfect warm-up for this week’s Champions League showdown with Arsenal.

Scott McDonald grabbed the third goal and afterwards McGeady revealed that Mowbray has thrown down the goal scoring gauntlet to his wide players.

“The manager said to Shaun Maloney and me before the game that he wants us to get to at least double figures this season and I totally agree with him,” said McGeady.

“I definitely need to improve on my goal scoring and today was great but the main thing is we got off to a good start in the league.

“We played very well in the first half, there was a lot of attacking football and it could have been five or six. I think the gaffer was disappointed because with Aberdeen getting the goal in the second half, it could have been a nervy finish. But overall it was a good day at the office.”

Plymouth Argyle have signed 20-year-old Irish striker Cillian Sheridan on a long-term loan deal from Celtic. And Hull City have been linked with a move for Celtic’s German defender Andreas Hinkel.

“We are aware of some interest and there has been interest since the day I came here,” Mowbray said.

“I don’t think Andreas is in any rush to leave this football club and we are in no rush to move him on. But as I said before, if we are going to rotate our squad around and improve certain areas, then if the right deal comes along for this club we will assess it and see if it is something that we want to do or not.”

Newly released figures show that Celtic cut their debts in half after making a pre-tax profit of £2 million last season on turnover of almost £73 million.

Celtic have confirmed they will face Benfica in a friendly in Toronto on September 2.

Dunne’s Wish

IRISH defender Richard Dunne wants to stay and fight for his place at Manchester City despite persistent rumors that he will be sold by boss Mark Hughes to make way for Everton’s Joleon Lescott.

Aston Villa, Spurs, Portsmouth and Sunderland have all been linked with the 29-year-old Dubliner, who played in Saturday’s opening Premier League win at Blackburn.

“Nothing has been said to me about leaving the club,” Dunne told the Irish Star Sunday. “I’ve got three years left on my contract and I am very happy. This is an exciting time at City.

“There is a real competition for places and I’m prepared to fight for mine. I’ve heard that Aston Villa, Spurs, Sunderland, Arsenal and Stoke are all interested in me and that is very flattering, but I’ll continue to do my best for the club until I’m told otherwise.”

McCarthy Upbeat

WOLVES boss Mick McCarthy remained upbeat despite his side’s 2-0 defeat at home to West Ham on their Premier League return on Saturday.

Mark Noble and Matthew Upson scored either side of halftime as Wolves, missing injured Irish striker Kevin Doyle, failed to take several scoring chances.

McCarthy said, “I thought we played well and gave a good performance but I want to win. I do not think we have that many lessons to learn.

“What it did confirm is that when we play as well as that we have to take our chances and we have to score. If there is anything to learn that just playing well is not enough. That is what we should understand.”

Soccer Shorts

DAMIEN Duff has finally escaped the nonsense at crisis club Newcastle United after passing a medical at Fulham which has agreed a $6 million deal for the Dubliner. Fellow Irish winger Stephen Hunt has completed a move to Hull City from Reading on a four year deal . . .

SHAMROCK Rovers have signed 21-year-old former Hibernian midfielder Ross Chisholm until the end of the current season.