He’s known as Rambo to many Irish supporters because of his all-action style and Stephen Hunt is relishing the task of taking first blood against the likes of Xavi and Iniesta at Euro 2012 this summer. Speaking to the fans, the Wolves winger discusses studying the Spanish team, facing Italy, Seamus Coleman, and reveals that, like Samson, his wavy curls are the source of all his powers.
Hunt was speaking on the YBIG Footie Show where host Dave O’Grady was joined by Póg Mo Goal’s James and Irish fans John in Dublin, Conor from Armagh, and Limerickman Joe.
The fan’s favourite is looking forward to making headlines with the Republic of Ireland in Poland in June.
“That’s the plan. Obviously you have targets at club level, like at Wolves it’d be to get to the 40-point mark. I try to set myself shorter term targets, to get a few goals and send me with confidence to the European Championships where hopefully I’ll have a big part to play.”
Of course, Ireland will lock horns with Spain, Italy and Croatia at the finals and Hunt is one member of the squad who seems to excel when facing the Azzurri. During the World Cup qualifying campaign, the wing-wizard was superb in Bari despite receiving a head injury, and at the home clash in Croke Park, Hunt fired the cross for St Ledger to fire home late on.
“Yea, and we had the friendly win in Liege too. I seem to really enjoy playing against them. But Croatia will be, in my personal view, our hardest game because everyone will be expecting us to get a result to get off to a good start.”
Although born in Laois, the Waterford man believes the spread of counties in the Irish squad has boosted the national team.
“Obviously I have family in Laois but I’d be a Munster man. It’s always good to see the Munster lads do well, particularly Waterford. It’s great to see others coming from Limerick with (teammate Anthony) Fordy making his début for Wolves a few weeks ago. It adds character to the Irish team when you have a few more country lads as generally it has always been Dublin people. As you know some of the squad own a horse, a Dublin and Culchies syndicate and it’s great, there’s always good banter.”
Seamus Coleman is another player who has impressed Hunt since joining the Irish set-up under Giovanni Trapattoni.
“He’s another one that has the right temperament; how he’s carried himself in and around the squad and he’s obviously playing very well for his club. He’s definitely got the right attitude to go a long way and he’s got the right manager to keep him on the straight and narrow as a young professional in the Premier League.”
So what player is Hunt most looking forward to taking on in Poland in June?
“I’ve started watching a lot more Spanish football in terms of studying players and how they play a certain way and turn. Obviously the likes of Xavi and Iniesta are going to be in or around my position, closing down and trying to get on the ball. Those two are obviously outstanding. How to get the ball off them is going to be vital. I enjoy watching Iniesta and Sergio Ramos. With Croatia then, obviously Modric is someone we watch every week in the Premier League but Xavi is the main one for me.”
What’s the best advice Giovanni Trapattoni has imparted on Hunty and is the manager rigid in terms of tactics and training?
“To be honest. He’s serious at the right time. He’s pretty relaxed at training but gets a bit more intense the closer the games get. The best advice would probably be about ways of defending and ways of seeing things that I’ve never seen before; like where to go when attacking and areas that are not so good that make us vulnerable to a certain degree. You rarely see Ireland as a team get done on the break. He’s made me tactically more aware and he’s always been pretty good to me.”
The 30-year-old cites the Bari game against Italy as a career highlight even if he was disappointed not to win, alongside his début in the green jersey away to San Marino.
With Robbie Keane in the news this week after his loan move to Aston Villa, his teammate describes the qualities the striker brings to the Irish team as captain.
“Robbie’s been around a while now on the international scene. He’s very good in the things he says before a game and how he deals with the media even though he can be a bit shy about things like that.”
So would he cut your hair if Ireland win the Euros?
“I’m like Samson to a certain degree. If I shave my head, I don’t seem to play well. There’s probably a lot of things I’d do if we won it but I don’t know if that would be one of them but it will probably get shaved off by the boys anyway. I’m already half refusing to cut my hair before the Euros. I don’t want to, in terms of confidence.”
The former Reading man says the Irish players greatly appreciate the atmosphere generated by those he deems the best away fans, and the Singing Section at the Aviva Stadium.
“We were all looking forward to the home game against Estonia. When we went 4-0 up it was almost an anti-climax for us too. We were probably all dreaming of scoring the winning goal but with the four goals, as a team, we probably all took the praise to a certain degree.”
Hunt acknowledges, having grown up watching the exploits of Jack Charlton’s sides, that the country is set for another summer of high jinks but it’s probably something he will only appreciate when he’s finished playing.
“With us being involved, we probably won’t realise what’s going on at home but with so many Irish fans expected to go, and with us not moving around much for the games, we might get a sense of the atmosphere. We’re going there as a team to do well and do the country proud.”
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