Truth about Ireland, Roy Keane and Those Absurd Pink Wheels; Things Happened to Me That Made Me Look Ridiculous. They Became the Main Part of Me and I Have Had to Change That

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Byline: by IAN LADYMAN

STEPHEN IRELAND'S footballing hero was born in the same county and played in the same English city. His name is Roy Keane. On his recent journey from ridicule to respect, it would appear Manchester City's midfielder has relied on some of the philosophy that ran through Keane's very soul.

'I take football very seriously,' said Ireland. 'I don't think I'm having a good enough season. I should have scored more goals, delivered more assists. I am a big believer in looking in the mirror and saying, "Are you good enough? Did you do good enough today? Did you fight hard enough?" 'If something is not going right in a match then you need a player who can spark something off. I want that player to be me.

'It's like Keane was at Manchester United. Whenever things were getting hot and heavy for them, Keane would just get in there and hit someone hard -- someone like Zinedine Zidane -- and everyone would be like, "Look at that!" They would take their lead from that and they would be off and running. In my head, that's me. That's the person I want to be.' As well as place of birth, Cork, and a philosophy, Ireland and Keane have something else in common.

Both fell out with their country, or their country's football to be precise.

But while Keane's problem was the state of a World Cup training facility, Ireland's international exile came after he invented the death of two grandmothers in September 2007. So how does Ireland feel about that when he looks in the mirror? Ireland takes a deep breath and prepares to tell his story.

'Things happened to me that made me look ridiculous,' he responds. 'They became the main part of me and I have had to change that. Whenever I used to see my name in the paper it was, "Stephen Ireland, comma, grandmas, website, pink wheels, blah blah ... " 'Now I just want it to be, "Stephen Ireland did something good on the field today". I think I am close to that. I hear City fans talking and telling me how happy they are with what I do for them on the field.

That's good.' When Ireland shaves, who does he see staring back? Is it the guy who is first pick on Mark Hughes's City team sheet and scorer of 10 important goals this season, or the young fool who lied to the FAI, went by t h e web page moniker 'Daddy Dick' and once drove a 4x4 with pink wheels? 'A year ago it was different,' he admitted. 'They were coming down on me hard and I deserved it. But the situation was in my own hands.

'I got myself into the situation and now I have got myself out of it. I think now I am the person I wanted to be and needed to be. The other stuff is gone.' That Ireland has chosen to speak in such detail about his life and his mistakes is a sign that he is moving on. A year ago he was a laughing stock. Now he is arguably City's most important player.

We talk, at Ireland's behest, in a private room at the Francis House Children's Hospice in Didsbury, Manchester, where I have been invited by the player to promote his charity -- the Stephen Ireland Foundation. It has raised thousands of pounds for the hospice in only a year.

The deal offered by him is simple: the foundation receives a donation from Sportsmail and Stephen Ireland will talk frankly.

Some of the subjects are uncomfortable but he is honest company and he is as good as his word.

So let's deal with the really bad stuff first.

It's September 8, 2007 in Bratislava. Slovakia v Republic of Ireland. Forty-five minutes before kick-off. Ireland has just taken a call from his girlfriend, Jessica. She has suffered a miscarriage.

'I passed the manager Steve Staunton in the corridor and he said, "Is everything all right?",' recalled Ireland. 'That was the exact moment it all went wrong.

'I should just have told him the truth. He is such a good person. I would have trusted him with my life. So why didn't I trust him with the truth? …