Mark back on familiar ground

Mark Noble has plenty of reasons to be happy to be back in the Republic of Ireland.

Not only did the West Ham United No16 score twice in England Under-21s' 3-0 win over their Irish counterparts in Cork in 2007, but the midfielder also has close family links with the Emerald Isle. Noble's grandmother hails from County Cork, while he also has relations living up the road in the capital city Dublin.

Naturally, then, the 26-year-old is relishing Sunday's Cork Airport Friendly Series meeting with League of Ireland Premier Division club Cork City at Turner's Cross.

"I didn't realise until we got here that we were playing at Turner's Cross," he revealed. "I remember playing there for the England Under-21s and getting a couple of goals [in a 2009 UEFA European U21 Championship qualifier on 17 October 2007]. One of my good friends at the time, Billy Clarke, was playing for the Irish so it was nice to get one over him.

"I think my Nan, my Mum's mum, was raised here so she was over the moon that I was coming over. I've got quite a lot of family up in Dublin, so hopefully they will be coming to the game on Sunday."

With his Irish ancestry, Noble has been linked with a call-up to the Republic of Ireland senior squad on a number of occasions, but the Hammers star insists he remains fully committed to the country of his birth.

"You never know! but I've been asked before about that but I am English, I played for the Under-21s and I have still got hopes of playing for the full national team. As I say, I have got a lot of Irish connections and great family over here."

While an Ireland debut remains out of the question, Noble has certainly relished his week at the outstanding Fota Island Resort in County Cork.

"We started a week earlier than most other clubs. We did the same last season and we got off to a good start. It hasn't been full head-on, but we've working hard. It's been really good and the lads have enjoyed it.

"We've not been here for pre-season training before so we've enjoyed the hotel, the golf course and the training facilities."

The Canning Town-born star believes the hard work and preparation West Ham are putting into their week in Ireland will pay-off come the start of the Barclays Premier League season in August.

With matches against four teams who were either playing in the Championship or finished in the bottom half last season to open 2013/14, Noble said the Hammers can start fast as they did last term.

"We had a really good season after winning promotion from the Championship and coming tenth in the Premier League was a fantastic achievement. The boys worked hard and that's what we need to do again this year - start well. We have got some good fixtures again and hopefully we can get some points on the board early.

"I'm enjoying my football. The Gaffer just tells me to go out there and play and to get us playing and it's enjoyable. We've got a great bunch of lads and every day I walk onto the training ground, it's a good time to be there."