Carsley and Kelly ready to give it a lash
IRISH aces Lee Carsley and Gary Kelly, on opposite sides of one of the Premiership season's most sensational scorelines at Elland Road last Saturday, join forces in Dublin today hoping the Republic can stretch soccer credibility a little further in Brussels.
When Leeds United gifted Derby County three goals in the first 33 minutes at Elland Road, Carsley and 33,000 others in the ground believed that the Rams were about to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches.
But Leeds fought back to clinch a remarkable victory with the game's seventh goal in the 91st minute, prompting a jubilant Kelly to say: ``That's a dramatic start to what should be an eventful seven days. I'd settle for 4-3 in Brussels next Saturday.''
Both Kelly and Carsley agree that Ireland are clear outsiders for the World Cup showdown with Belgium but neither man is ready to give up hope of winning a place in next summer's finals.
LAST Saturday's match was one of soccer's tales of the unexpected and there is no reason that there should not be another in Belgium, according to Carsley.
``They're a good team, Belgium, but if we could go there and attack them, anything could happen,'' he said.
Both Kelly and Carsley are 23 years old but they have taken a totally different route into Mick McCarthy's squad.
Kelly, born in Drogheda and a product of Home Farm's schoolboy soccer academy, established himself in the Leeds first team soon after his debut in January 1992 at the age of 17.
Within two years he collected the first of his 24 Irish caps against Russia and, a couple of months later, shared pop star status with Jason McAteer and Phil Babb as the Republic headed off on an wave of excitement to the World Cup in the USA.
Carsley, born in Birmingham and signed by Derby County from school, won his only under 21 cap against Portugal in October 1995 the night before the Irish team went down 3-0 in a deluge at the Stadium of Light.
Lee heard no more from Ireland until his sparkling form at the heart of Derby County's midfield persuaded McCarthy to give him a run again Romania last month as the Republic rested several players on yellow cards and absorbed the loss of Roy Keane to the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury.
``The call came out of the blue. My form has been good at club level and Mick McCarthy has said if that's good, you're in there,'' explained Carsley, who is revelling in a semi-defensive midfield role this season after Derby tried him out as a wing back last term.
``Playing at wing back was a bit of a stop-gap but now I've got my chance in midfield that's where I'm staying. With the exception of last Saturday, it has been brilliant this season. I'm looking forward to every game with Derby and Ireland because every game is a different challenge.
``I enjoyed playing against Romania and then as a sub against Belgium. The standard of international football is very high. Keeping possession is vital. If you give the ball way at all, it either ends up in the back of the net or they are creating chances.''
Carsley deeply regrets the injury which has sidelined Keane for the rest of this season. ``Roy is just about the best midfielder in England and his loss is an awful blow to Ireland. Personally, I would have liked to have trained with him and perhaps pick up a few things for my game,'' he added modestly.
In Keane's absence, Carsley is pressing hard for a place in the Irish midfield for Brussels. Though he did not appear comfortable playing an anchor role behind Ray Houghton and Alan McLoughlin in the first half against Romania, he slotted in nicely alongside Houghton when the Republic switched to a 4-4-2 formation after the interval.
Carsley replaced Andy Townsend in the second half against Belgium last Wednesday week and, even though he is unlikely to beat the Irish skipper or Houghton for a place in the starting line-up on Saturday, he seems certain to play some part in the match.
``I'll be chuffed if I start but I'll be happy just to go along,'' said Lee, who qualifies for Ireland on the strength of his maternal grandparents, who hail from Cork, and who feels green to the core.
``As soon as I get off the plane in Dublin I feel Irish,'' he insisted. ``It's the atmosphere in the city and within the squad itself. We have no other Irish players at Derby but Paul McGrath was forever telling me how good it was and what the lads were like and every word he said was true.
``The spirit of this Irish team is fantastic and, with that on our side, I don't think we can be written off in Brussels,'' concluded Carsley, who has renamed his two-year-old son Callum, as The Celtic Warrior since making the breakthrough onto the Republic's squad.
KELLY'S place in the starting line-up seems secure. McCarthy can choose between using him at full-back or on the right side of midfield, with Jeff Kenna playing at right back. The Drogheda man has filled both role with distinction for Leeds and had 45 minutes in each of them last Saturday.
``Gary has been great for us this season. I have changed him from full back to midfield and he has done very well,'' said Leeds boss George Graham, adding that when Kelly reverted to right back in the second half against Derby, ``you never saw Asanovic in the game after that. He marked him right out of it.''
Kelly said: ``I don't really mind where I play but it is nice in midfield when the boys around you are all working so hard.
``We've a good atmosphere at the club at the moment and I just hope we can keep it going,'' added Kelly, who is terrier-like in defence, yet so polished going forward.
He provides Leeds with a first class service down the right flank and at set pieces and should give the Belgians some food for thought.
Kelly and clubmate Ian Harte are looking forward to Saturday's showdown with relish. ``It's going to be a big match,'' said Gary. ``It will be interesting over there. What happened to Denis Irwin is unfortunate but maybe it will help spur the lads on to do something special for him.''
Harte, kept out of the Leeds side by former Rangers left-back David Robertson, has yet to make an appearance in the Premiership this season, but a series of solid performances alongside Kenny Cunningham in the centre of the Irish defence indicates both will hold their place in Brussels.
INTERESTINGLY, Graham went out of his way praise another member of the large Irish contingent at Leeds after Saturday's thriller 19-year-old Dubliner Alan Maybury, who made his home debut at right-back.
``Young Maybury is a gifted boy and has a great future,'' said the Leeds manager. ``He's going to be a hell of a player. This is part of the learning process for him - sometimes you have to do these things for the good of the team.''
The more immediate future occupies the attention of Harte, Kelly and Carsley. When Saturday comes, let's hope they'll be united in victory.