Sport Soccer

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Kilbane ready, willing and able to help revive Lansdowne Roar

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Kevin Kilbane has travelled all over the world from Brazil to San Marino - and most places in between - on Irish team duty, but home is where the heart is for the 108-times capped veteran.

'Home' for many of those matches, dating back to his debut against Iceland in September 1997, was the old Lansdowne Road, a ground bearing fond memories for Kilbane.

The 'Lansdowne Roar' was never greater than in the 1-0 World Cup qualifier win over Holland in September 2001. That was the day 10-man Ireland -- Gary Kelly was sent off -- defied the best efforts of the Dutch in a dramatic match.

"My favourite memory of Lansdowne has to be the Holland game. Down to 10 men, everything against us, the result that day was brilliant for us all. It was a tremendous occasion and one that will live with me for ever," said Kilbane.

The sexy new Aviva Stadium, although rising from the foundations of the old arena, does not yet possess the menacing aura of a fortress that the left-back associates with the Dublin 4 venue.

"Yeah, I loved playing at Lansdowne, because the history was there, and playing my first ever international at Lansdowne was special," said Kilbane.

"At Croke Park, we never felt we had it like that fortress we had at Lansdowne. Sometimes we felt invincible at Lansdowne. We had so many great nights and so many great days there.

"The new one is a fabulous stadium. It's right up there with the best that I've played at. Everything's done to perfection, really.

"We've only played three games there and it's early days, but the Russia game set us back, so until we do get that big result there, we'll have a bit of a question mark over us at the Aviva."

Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Macedonia could produce that result and Kilbane is eager for just one more chance to lace up the boots and do battle. Selection is a matter of checks and balances, as Kilbane is only too aware.

On the debit side is his age and his status as an English League One player, albeit with promotion-chasing Huddersfield.

Against that, Kilbane hopes his international experience will count favourably with Giovanni Trapattoni as the manager shuffles his injury-hit playing resources.

A veteran of Ireland's disappointment in Skopje in 1999, he is hoping for a better experience against Macedonia this time round.

The shock 3-2 loss to Russia in October was a setback to qualifying hopes, and Kilbane admits: "Confidence is high with them (the Russians), so we are chasing, but we certainly feel we're capable of catching them and staying with them.

"It's very small margins. In the Russia game we were just outplayed, and I would hope we can just put it down to one of those nights.

"We don't want to have those nights at international level when the big games come around, but it does happen. We have to learn from it and the test is for Saturday now, the next home qualifier we've had since then, and it's a big, big, game for us."

In view of the injury problems and absence of Shay Given and John O'Shea, plus the doubts over Richard Dunne, Kilbane can offer priceless international nous at the back.

Whether it will be enough for a starting place, only Trapattoni knows.

"I don't know. But I feel very fit. I've played around 20 full games since I've gone there (to Huddersfield) now," said Kilbane.

"I've got to be pleased with that, the amount of time I've spent on the pitch, but I fully realise that there is a quality difference from playing international football to the third tier of English football.

"But I'm hoping that I've got enough experience and enough about myself to see me through if I'm called upon."

Time is closing in on his international career and already the new challengers at left-back are emerging, including Ciaran Clark of Aston Villa and Manchester City's Greg Cunningham, who is absent through injury.

Kilbane's first impressions of Clark were: "He seems to be a player that's always very collected within himself.

"Greg Cunningham is very unlucky with the injury he's got, but again, one person's loss is another's gain and now Ciaran comes in, and he's champing at the bit."

Kilbane earned his fifth cap in the Irish home win over the Macedonians in June 1999, and was on the bench for the 1-1 draw that scuppered the team's chance of automatic qualification for Euro 2000.

"I didn't actually play, but I was on the bench. Such a disappointing night for us. So yeah, we've a bit of history with Macedonia," he said.

Irish Independent

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