Tuesday 12 November 2019

'I didn't win a competition to become an Irish footballer. It was a big deal for me' - Dean Kiely proud of 'underdog tag'


“I didn’t win a competition to become an Irish footballer. It was a big deal for me,” says Crystal
Palace goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely, who was capped 11 times by Ireland. “In quiet moments I think of those memories and get a nice feeling but the point of it is I’m not sentimental.” Photo: Getty Images
“I didn’t win a competition to become an Irish footballer. It was a big deal for me,” says Crystal Palace goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely, who was capped 11 times by Ireland. “In quiet moments I think of those memories and get a nice feeling but the point of it is I’m not sentimental.” Photo: Getty Images

David Sneyd

Naturally, all seems calm from the "relaxation area" on the second floor of Crystal Palace's training ground along a leafy suburban street in south-east London.

There is a burgundy leather couch against a wall right next to the sort of silverware clubs outside the Premier League's top six now seem happy to make do with: a gleaming barista-style Nespresso machine.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Dean Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile

As first-team goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely insists, most who persevere through this ruthless business do not concern themselves with trophies.

"Show me your medals? What I would say to counter is that my medal isn't a lump of gold, it's playing at every level and being trusted every week. Survival, having that longevity is something I'm proud of," the former Republic of Ireland international says, pointing to his 759 games and 246 clean sheets over a 24-year professional career, which continues now as part of manager Roy Hodgson's staff.

The "relaxation area" is home to a number of inviting armchairs in a range of colours; green, yellow, orange and light grey. The first-team's warm-up area and training pitch is directly beneath the sound-proof window, and it is only when you peer out that you see Hodgson beginning to take command of a session just after 11am.

With a trip across London to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge today - Palace have won there twice in the last four years - training is intense with the emphasis on structure. Hodgson, now 72, is the oldest manager in the English top flight, but he is not one to delegate work on the grass to his assistant Ray Lewington (62) or to his first-team coaches.

This will be the 300th Premier League game he takes charge of and it is Hodgson who regularly stops the 11 v 11 practice match to work on individual players' positioning and issue instructions.

When it comes to an end around 12.30pm, Hodgson and Wilfried Zaha are the last two to leave. They remain in discussion for a further 10 minutes and it's the manager doing the majority of the talking and gesturing.

So it's clear that the perception some have of him, as a veteran boss who doesn't get his hands dirty, is incorrect. And that battle with reality is something Kiely, who turns 50 next year, can relate to, even if he played a key part in blurring the lines for so long during his own playing days.

Survival

His is not a story of sweetness and light and his explanation for how he negotiated the journey from the fourth tier of English football with York City in 1990 to the Premier League with Charlton Athletic a decade later is intriguing.

"If I'm a really placid fella, I probably ain't going to survive and if I'm biting, kicking, snarling, spitting, fighting, being a really angry fella, I ain't going to survive either. It's about having that feel for the situation you're in," says Kiely, who employed his own psychologist when he reached the Premier League.

"I would be clean-shaven for home games but always have a skin head and go unshaven in an away game, a bit rough and rugged, because going into an away ground of a perceived big team, I didn't want to fit in with them.

"I think, from a psychological point of view, one of the areas was tough thinking and acting. Adopting a persona. You're not acting or doing something that's not true to you. I feel you have to be many different sorts of people. Doing whatever it takes for the team. You won't get a medal at the end of it but on my CV I would have it that I'm a 'winning underdog'. That tag fits me perfectly."

Kiely knows some would have others. Capped 11 times for Ireland, twice stepping away from the international set-up to focus his energy on his club career, the Salford-born goalkeeper was caught up in controversy when Craig Bellamy accused him in his autobiography of saying he wished his mother died of cancer during a game.

"No one has ever asked me whether it's true," Kiely says, addressing the matter for the first time. "Your perception is, you read it in a book so you think it's true. I read 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' but there's no fairytale land in the back of my wardrobe. But there is in the book," Kiely, who says he never had a right of reply before it was published, continues.

"The issue about challenging it... I don't want to add any fuel to it. Was it word for word verbatim? That's the one thing I really find difficult. In the first five minutes of talking to you, the frustration is that people's perception of me is not the reality of me and who I am. The reality is, if you're no good at what you do, if you're not a decent fella, you don't hang about.

"People don't keep idiots around. The idiots seem to fall away and do something else. People don't want people who are not very good or not very nice people around.

"So, to have longevity, you've got to be a decent fella and good at what you do. Whether people perceive that I'm good, bad or indifferent, I know and the people I work with know. I'm very comfortable.

"Don't get me wrong, over the years we've sledged each other and had a dislike for each other. That's part and parcel of sport. It has no bearing on me."

Kiely reiterates that he has enough to focus his mind on with the here and now. His wife and children are based 100 miles away in Norwich, so he splits his time between the family home and a hotel near Palace's training ground.

There are no half measures, and now, 20 years on from his Ireland debut under Mick McCarthy against Turkey in a Euro 2000 qualifying play-off and travelling as one of Shay Given's understudies to the 2002 World Cup, he remains dead-eyed with his reflections on that time of his career.

"Could I have made a case for 20 to 25 caps? Easily, easily. For me it was just my job. They mean more to my family members, my dad (from Kilkenny) or family in Ireland. The accolades are great for them as opposed to me, I wasn't running up star struck or walking around thinking this was amazing. I was thinking I want to help out and do something.

"I didn't win a competition to become an Irish footballer. Mick McCarthy chose me to be part of the squad because of what I was doing. My family are immensely proud of it, it was a big deal for them when I got called. It was a big deal for me, I'm not trying to play it down.

"The number of caps I got, if I was bitter and twisted I would sit here and tell a resentful story but it couldn't be further away from that. In quiet moments I think of those memories and get a nice feeling but the point of it is I'm not sentimental."

That's Kiely's reality.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport