McAuley prepares for Italian job

A FEW years ago, Gareth McAuley was on the brink of quitting international football.

But now the Ipswich Town central defender is preparing for one of the biggest games of his life, for Northern Ireland against Italy.

While most of Town’s players will be enjoying a well-earned rest from competitive action, over the next fortnight, McAuley will be hoping to spring a surprise on the Italians in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Windsor Park on Friday evening.

The 30-year-old has been in outstanding form for both club and country this season. He has played every minute of Town’s first 10 league games of the season, and was also involved in Northern Ireland’s surprise away win over Slovenia in the first group match last month.

But it could have been all so different for McAuley, if he had opted to turn his back on the international stage.

“I was thinking about quitting international football a few years back,” revealed McAuley.

“It was when Lawrie Sanchez was the manager. There were a few of us who had lost our way, and I certainly wasn’t feeling part of the group, even though I was still in the squad.

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“I was going away with the squad, but I always felt like I was making up the numbers. I found it very frustrating.

“I was seriously thinking about what to do, when I was left out of a squad, but then Lawrie left and things changed. Nigel Worthington came in and since then it’s been going well for me and the team,” added McAuley.

Looking ahead to the Italian game, McAuley believes that Northern Ireland can cause a surprise on Friday evening.

“We are feeling confident, and we’ll have the home crowd behind us,” continued McAuley.

“I think we can beat anyone in Belfast, and we’ll be taking the game to Italy by playing at a high tempo.”

McAuley is set to earn his 24th cap against the Italians, before preparing for his country’s third Euro 2012 qualifier away in the Faroe Islands next Tuesday.

Town team-mates Marton Fulop and Tamas Priskin are away with the Hungarian squad over the next fortnight, and Connor Wickham is in the England Under-19 squad for three group qualifiers for the 2011 Euro Under-19 Championships in Belgium.

Wickham will be hoping to be involved in the three games against Cyprus (October 8), Albania (October 10) and hosts Belgium (October 13).

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