Darron Gibson is ready to re-launch his Republic of Ireland career in the face of a potential German onslaught after ending his international exile.
The 25-year-old Everton midfielder famously made himself unavailable for his country after spending the entire Euro 2012 finals in Poland sitting on the bench as then manager Giovanni Trapattoni ignored his claims for a place in the team.
Following a disastrous campaign in Poland, the Italian singled out Gibson, Seamus Coleman and James McClean as the vanguard of a new generation of players who would take the nation forward, but the former Manchester United man had had enough.
Trapattoni’s departure after last month’s World Cup qualifier defeats by Sweden and Austria, which effectively ended their qualification hopes, prompted the Football Association of Ireland to dispense with the 74-year-old’s services, and that in turn persuaded Gibson, who has 19 senior caps, to make himself available once again.
Asked if he felt almost as though he was starting all over again, he said: “I have got something to prove. I thought I should have played back then and hopefully I will get my chance on Friday night to show what I can do.”
Former Leeds striker Robbie Keane – now playing with LA Galaxy – missed training yesterday morning with an ankle problem, but is expected too be fit for the game.
Defender Gareth McAuley, meanwhile, has called on Northern Ireland to bounce back from their “horror show” against Luxembourg by seeing off Azerbaijan.
A 3-2 defeat at the Stade Josy Barthel last month was the nadir of a World Cup qualifying campaign that has seen Northern Ireland stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Portugal and Russia only to falter against Group F’s so-called minnows.
Manager Michael O’Neill was fuming after that defeat and West Brom defender McAuley, one of his most senior men, provided a typically honest assessment of where that left the team.
“We weren’t good enough individually or collectively in Luxembourg,” he said. “We’ve got this game now to try and put things right.”