Joey O'Brien has revealed that he never gave up hope of making an international return as he prepares to make his first Republic of Ireland appearance since October 2007 on Wednesday evening.

The West Ham United player disappeared into the international wilderness after being withdrawn at half-time in Ireland's 1-1 EURO 2008 qualifying draw with Cyprus in Dublin, enduring a two-year injury nightmare.

After battling back from serious knee problems, O'Brien earned a two-year contract with the Hammers in the summer of 2011 after impressing his former Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce. The 26-year-old made 33 appearances last season to prove his fitness and help West Ham to gain promotion to the Barclays Premier League, catching the eye of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni in the process.

Now, he has earned an international recall and could make his fourth senior appearance in Wednesday's friendly with Serbia in Belgrade. The Irish start their World Cup qualifying campaign in Kazakhstan on 7 September and the Hammers No17 would love to be involved.

"I've done so much rehab in a way that football is the easy part," he told the Irish Times. "Once I'm on the pitch, and I'm fit, I believe I'll be playing games and nothing else matters.

"Luckily for me, he (Big Sam) got the West Ham job at the right time and told me I could go down there to train. I trained down there for the whole of pre-season to try and earn a contract and thankfully I did."

Joey O'Brien

Joey O'Brien in action against Cyprus in October 2007

O'Brien also thanked Big Sam for allowing him to join up with the Ireland squad just a few days before the big Barclays Premier League kick-off against Aston Villa at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday.

"He knows how patriotic I am, being an Irish person over here [in England]. He hears me every day on the training ground. He wasn't going to be able to say anything. I love playing for my country."

For the Dubliner, pulling on the green shirt of his country again is something O'Brien has been dreaming of. Speaking to the Irish Sun, he recalled the memory of being awarded his first Irish cap by the late FAI coach Noel O'Reilly after making his debut against Sweden in March 2006.

The popular full-back also revealed that his faith had played a big part in his successful recovery from majory surgery to have a piece of his kneecap removed in 2008.

"I love playing for my country, I've a picture in my flat of Noel O'Reilly giving me my first cap — God rest him. I knew, and people that matter to me, they knew what it meant for me to be playing for Ireland.

"I had trust in God that I was going to get back. There were many a prayer and novena (act of religious devotion) that kept me going. I was always a religious person. I was brought up in it by my ma and da, going to mass every week. I think that without it, I would not be back."

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