Saturday 27 May 2017

Warrior Kilbane has no desire to turn his back on green jersey

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WE live in a time where footballers, surrounded by people who sing their praises in any situation, are sensitive to any kind of gentle ribbing. Not so Kevin Kilbane.

He's absorbed more flak than most Irish players of his generation and taken it on the chin when others would have taken it to heart. So, when discussion about the start of a new campaign is accompanied by banter related to his selfishness in refusing to stand aside and giving anyone else a chance, the 33-year-old runs with the joke rather than taking umbrage.

"They'll be kicking me out soon," he laughs. Thing is, if he'd wanted to, Giovanni Trapattoni would have done so already. Instead, Kilbane will kick off his eighth qualifying campaign this evening.

Few men of his age have the same desire for the international game. There may be plenty more attractive stamps on his passport than the one he received in Yerevan late on Wednesday night, but Kilbane's enthusiasm remains infectious.

At times, he has contemplated packing it in. He spoke to Liam Brady and others around the Irish camp about his situation after the last campaign ended in bitter disappointment. The subsequent decision to stick around and continue in the makeshift left-back role was about more than their encouragement. The heart was telling the head that it was the right thing to do. And the head agreed.

"It was in my own mind as well," he says. "I spoke to my own family, and they probably made it a bit clearer for me really. It's nice to hear those people speaking to you, saying to stay around and see what happens.

"I've always said that it's the pinnacle for me, the peak for me, international football. I spoke to Liam Brady and the likes, and they were all very good about it."

He is aware of the fallibility that comes with age, and his unfamiliarity in his current position. On the road to Paris, circumstances made him Ireland's first-choice left-back; in truth, there were precious few other options.

Now, Greg Cunningham is on his heels, and there are other candidates too -- characters like Stephen Ward or Stephen Kelly, who can adapt to that berth. Starting the game in Yerevan tonight is guaranteed yet, at this stage of his career, Kilbane is realistic enough to know that by the end of this European adventure, he might be unshipped.

But now that he's in, walking away in that eventuality is out of the question.

"I just want to be part of the squad," he asserts. "Someone did say to me -- and it's probably not fair to say who it was -- he said, 'look, you can be part of the squad, you might end up coming on for 10 to 15 minutes of the game that could see a team through to a major championship. You've got to take pride in being a part of it.'

"I agreed. You've got to take pride in being a part of the squad. You've got to accept that sometimes you may not be playing or may not be starting."

Kilbane generally starts for Ireland, though, which is why his club situation at Hull is enervating. He was deeply disappointed to be benched for their Championship loss to Doncaster last Saturday. During the summer, he took the decision to rip up his one-year deal with the club and turn it into a two-year arrangement at half the wages.

It made sense when it came to long-term security, while displaying a refreshing pragmatism. How many others would see the benefits of a paycut?

"The chairman's made me out to be some kind of martyr," he grins, with reference to Adam Pearson's praise. "I did take a wage drop for the extension, but I just wanted to carry on playing.

"I'm no spring chicken, but I still feel fit and strong. I would like to go into the coaching side of the game and will start my badges in the next six months, but playing on is in the forefront of my mind right now. It wouldn't bother me going down the leagues if I have to. I want to play as long as I can.

"I still enjoy the game. Unless you play for one of the top three or four teams, there can be more bad days than good. But you're coming in every day, and you see the young lads and they keep you motivated."

His ex-Hull team-mate Stephen Hunt misses this trip through injury, and is an example of somebody with similar passion. The Waterford man may be unpredictable every time he opens his mouth, yet Kilbane is sure that Hunt will never retire from the international game.

Having tasted a major tournament in Korea and Japan eight years ago, his wish is that Hunt and Kevin Doyle and the follow-on generation taste such highs. Euro 2012's Group B represents an opportunity. Nevertheless, experience has taught Kilbane to be cautious ahead of this evening's opening joust.

"We've been to these kind of countries," he says of Armenia. "It's tough, and we've never been a side that's gone and steamrolled teams.

"I know if we can start well, and keep the crowd quiet, we've got enough quality to win the game."

Certainly, with Kilbane in the ranks, there is no shortage of desire.

Irish Independent

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