EURO 2016

Westwood dismisses claims he walked away from Ireland duty

Westwood made the cut for Ireland's Euro 2016 squad
Westwood made the cut for Ireland's Euro 2016 squad

Keiren Westwood has moved to dispel speculation that he turned his back on the Republic of Ireland.

The 31-year-old goalkeeper was included in Martin O'Neill's 23-man squad for the Euro 2016 finals along with Shay Given and Darren Randolph on Tuesday night despite not having played for his country since June last year.

His repeated absence from squads during the intervening period led to speculation and rumours, one of which suggested that he was not prepared to travel to Ireland for 10 days at a time just to sit on the bench after losing his place in the starting line-up.

However, Westwood, who has been in fine form for Sheffield Wednesday this season, was swift to dismiss the claims.

He said: "But I wasn't playing every week for Sheffield Wednesday. I missed maybe 12 games this year with carrying injuries since my second day of pre-season. I only really got fully-fit in February.

"I've kept 14 clean sheets in 35 or 37 games this year. If you look, I'd be quite confident in saying most of my clean sheets came after January, when I was fit.

"With the national games in November, especially the play-offs and stuff, I couldn't do anything about being injured."

Westwood's joy at making the squad for France was tempered by the knowledge that friend David Forde missed out, but his form and the fact that he has been playing regularly for his club gave him the advantage.

It remains to be seen who pulls on the goalkeeper's shirt for the opening fixture against Sweden on June 13 with Randolph currently the man in possession, but the Owls man will hope to get the chance to make amends for his club's heartbreaking 1-0 Sky Bet Championship play-off final defeat by Hull.

Westwood's brilliance could not keep the Tigers at bay at Wembley, but he has quickly had to move on to a new challenge.

He said: "I've only been here for two days, so it has all just started for me, but it was the pick-me-up I needed after Saturday. It was really emotional, really draining. I put everything in - we all did.

"Sheffield Wednesday isn't just about me, it's the whole squad, the staff, everything that we worked for for the whole season and put in so much effort. To fall like that, it's hard to take.

"I remember talking to a few of the Derby lads last year and it was hard to take for them as well. No matter who you are - you could be the hardest, strongest man in the world - but to come that close is really heartbreaking, especially with all those fans there. We had over 40,000, I think.

"It was a great game to play in and I can always look back on my career and say I played in the richest game in football - £175million, maybe £200million. It's a little feather in my cap, but we were beaten, which is an absolute killer."