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Kelly accepts role as Trap's 'Mr Fixit'

HE'S OUR defensive Band-Aid. Ireland's Mr Fixit. Missing a left back or a centre half? Call Stephen Kelly. In need of an emergency right-full? Give the lad Kelly a call.

And once more into the breach comes the Fulham player, as he will be deployed at right-back in Estonia on Friday night, filling in for the injured John O'Shea and winning his 29th senior cap, though if O'Shea returns from injury for the second leg next week, Kelly may well have to drop back to the bench for that campaign finale.

Some would sulk at the notion of being picked up when the country needs you and then being dropped back down again, but Kelly's not one for sulks or tantrums.

"I try to keep it in perspective," Kelly told the Herald this week. "You want to be in the squad but you want to have an impact in the matches as well and I feel I have done that in this campaign. I have played in a lot of the big games and performed well so I feel I have earned the right to be here, the right to play in these games.

"And if we do qualify I feel I'll have had a personal achievement by playing a part," added Kelly, who played out of his skin at right-back in the 0-0 draw away to Russia but only made the bench for the next qualifier against Andorra and was then bumped back into the team at left-back against Armenia in place of the suspended Stephen Ward.

"It was hard to miss out. It's happened to me quite a bit. I have come into the Ireland team, played well and I'd maybe expect to play in the next one but then I'm on the bench. You have to take it on the chin. It hurts at the time and it can get to you, but I try to put that aside and just get my head right for the time that I am needed."

Kelly retains that perspective because he knows that even though he now leads a privileged existence as a senior international and a Premier League player, life could have been very, very different.


"Even at schoolboy level, there were lads around who were better than me as players. At Belvedere, Stephen Capper was captain of the team and he was the next big thing. It wasn't a case of his attitude, as Stephen had a great attitude to the game, it just didn't happen for him and good players go by the wayside," says Kelly of his old mate Capper, now playing for English non-league side Spennymoor Town.

But it's that level-headed attitude which helped Kelly get where he is. He confesses that he's "boring" because he prefers a quiet meal with his wife to a night of sinking champagne.

"I think I established my attitude at Tottenham. My physical attributes were always there, I was quick and strong and that was noticeable from an early age, but the attitude I learned at Tottenham helped me get where I am today," Kelly says.

"A lot of the other players at Spurs that time didn't have the same approach. They were out drinking and what have you, and that just wasn't for me. It's not my way now and it wasn't my way when I was 17 or 18. I was always very dedicated to what I do, I love playing football and I'd give anything to play it at the highest level, and at Tottenham I knuckled down.

"The other lads would be going out but I'd stay in studying. I did my A-levels over there. My parents were adamant that they didn't want me leaving school without any qualifications. So when I went to Tottenham I did A-levels in biology and business studies and I got As in those," says Kelly, admitting that his parents only let him leave school in Dublin and go to London if he took his books with him.

"It wasn't the done thing at the time. You had people doing things like leisure and tourism, nothing serious, so over I went to college in north east London, just down the road from Tottenham.

"Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I'd be there for four hours of one-to-one lectures. It was intense but I liked it and it stood to me well.

"I was never guaranteed to be a professional footballer and I wanted to have something to fall back on, and I'm happy I did it. Education is a big thing to me -- my wife is a lecturer -- and I'm glad I have those qualifications. I just enjoy my life the way it is, I like spending time with my wife, I like going to restaurants instead of flashy nightclubs, people might think I'm boring but I like the way my life is.

"I concentrated on things that I thought were important and maybe that's why I have go to where I am."

Where he is this week is playing at right back for his country's biggest game in two years, and with some game time under his belt from Fulham in recent weeks, he's ready for action.

"I have a good chance of playing in this game on Friday so I am just focused on preparing well and training well," he says. "Things have been good for me. I feel very confident in how I've been playing. I feel very relaxed and I'm just enjoying my football. Any time I've been given an opportunity to play, I feel I have taken it, whether that's been at left back or right back it doesn't matter, I think I have done well."

Mr Fixit and Mr Boring, but Kelly just shrugs off the labels and does his national duty.