Ireland started his career in Cobh, playing junior football for Cobh Ramblers, a team his father Michael had previously played for.
In 2005, at the age of 18, he joined English Premiership club Manchester City. He played for the first team in a number of pre-season friendlies and made his competitive debut on 18 September 2005 against Bolton Wanderers, coming on as an 81st-minute substitute.
At the start of the 2010–11 Premier League season, Ireland was targeted to be transferred with loan to Aston Villa. Ireland represented Ireland at under-15, under-16 and under-17 level, but when called up to under-18 level he had a dispute with coach Brian Kerr after he was left out of the side and told to watch the match from the stands.
In September 2007, Ireland was at the centre of controversy when, in the immediate aftermath of a Republic of Ireland international match and days before their crunch game against the Czechs, coach Steve Staunton informed him of a telephone call just received from his girlfriend reporting the death of his maternal grandmother. Staunton quickly consented to Ireland’s compassionate leave on these grounds, a private jet was chartered for his return.
Ireland eventually came out with the truth, admitting he had invented a reason to leave the Irish team in order to visit his girlfriend in Cork, who, he claimed, had had a miscarriage. “I decided at that stage that I must tell the truth and admit I had told lies,” Ireland said. “I realise now it was a massive mistake to say my grandmothers had died and I deeply regret it.”
Ireland has now said that he will probably not return to the national team: “I always say ‘never say never’ because it’s hard not to, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back.” In August 2010, he restated that he would not return: “I watch Ireland matches like anyone else might do at this stage, but I don’t feel a part of it at all. It doesn’t make me feel like I should go back play again. That question is gone for me and the answer won’t change my mind.”
Some of Stephen’s Top Goals: Stephen Ireland