St Ledger in shock Ireland call-up

Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton has dropped a bombshell by calling up Preston defender Sean St Ledger to face mighty Germany.

But a top government minister was forced to intervene over the weekend to rush through an Irish passport so the 21-year-old can board the flight to Stuttgart on Thursday.

The late selection of St Ledger to an injury-hit squad has stunned fans in the Republic – most admit they have never heard of the centre-half!

The Birmingham-born player, who was playing League Two football only four months ago, qualifies through an Irish grandparent.

He was flying to Dublin today to meet up with the squad and the party will jet out to Germany on Thursday, 48 hours

before the opening European Championship qualifier.

St Ledger is almost certain to be on the bench – he appears to be fourth choice centre-half behind Richard Dunne, Andy O'Brien and Gary Doherty.

But he could find himself face-to-face with World Cup stars Lukas Podolski, Oliver Neuville and Miroslav Klose if there are further injuries before Saturday night.

It emerged today that the defender, who joined North End in the summer from Peterborough for 225,000, was recommended to Republic bosses by Ron Atkinson.

Atkinson spent three months with osh at the end of last season filming the controversial fly-on-the-wall documentary Big Ron Manager.

During his time at the club he noted St Ledger's talent and tipped the Irish off.

"I was having dinner with Don Givens (Irish Under-21 coach) and asked him would the Republic be interested in St Ledger," said Atkinson.

"Don said that if he qualified they would be interested, so I rang Steve Staunton and told him about the lad.

"He said they would be looking at him and I know they have watched him in a couple of games.

"I spoke to Sean on Sunday and he told me he was on standby and was really chuffed about that."

An injury to Birmingham defender Stephen Kelly – the latest in a string of withdrawals for the big game – led to St Ledger's call-up last night.

But within hours of the news breaking, the Republic management faced a major problem because St Ledger did not have a passport.

The matter was handed to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and it was agreed the documentation would be rushed through so he could travel.

A spokesman for the department said today: "As soon as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, became aware that Sean St Ledger required an Irish passport, he immediately contacted officials in his department.

"He and his officials worked feverishly to issue Sean with a passport. Mr Ahern is a keen soccer fan and he is well aware that Steve Staunton needs to strengthen his squad ahead of the match."

The Irish squad gather in Dublin this evening and will stage a training session tomorrow at which St Ledger is bound to attract plenty of interest from the nation's media.

The party fly out on Thursday and they face World Cup third-placed team Germany on Saturday night in the opening match of Group D.

St Ledger's inclusion completes a stunning rise from obscurity for the youngster who Preston snatched from Peterborough in July.

He was thrown straight into the Championship following an injury to Youl Mawene and has impressed with the speed at which he has acclimatised to football two levels above where he came from.

He has cut his teeth in pre-season playing against Everton pair James Beattie and Andy Johnson.

Since the real stuff kicked off, he has faced other internationals in Robert Earnshaw (Wales) and Grzegorz Rasiak (Poland).