Reading young gun Liam Kelly turns down chance to play for Ireland
READING midfielder Liam Kelly rejected a call-up to the Ireland squad for this week's training camp in Turkey because he is keeping his options open on his international future.
Martin O'Neill today revealed that the 22-year-old turned down a place in the squad after failing to return calls and informing Irish management of his decision via text message.
"You might want to ask about Liam Kelly who I think wants to keep his options open at this minute," said O'Neill. "Obviously he's born in England and wants to keep those options open and that's fine.
"What did I do? I did actually leave a message or two and he got back to me by text," said O'Neill with a wry smile when asked about how he learned of Kelly's indecision. "I've always said here that it's the player's choice. It's exactly what it is and if he wants to think that England might come in, that's entirely his decision."
O'Neill said that a discussion with the player's agent had previously given the indication that Kelly was keen on an Irish career.
However, he admitted he did begin to have some doubts before receiving the text message.
"He had not returned a lot of calls coming through at the time (when named in squad). Despite the fact that I knew where he was born, I thought that was okay. I spoke to his agent quite some considerable time ago and I think that was always going to be okay, I felt. He was in the squad before and had to pull out with a hamstring problem."
When it was put to O'Neill that a courtesy call would be better than a text message, he interjected: "Ah lads, lads, it's the name of the game," with a smile.
Kelly qualifies through grandparents from Mayo and Leitrim and played for Ireland at U19 and U21 level.
He made a real impression for Reading last term and was part of the team that went all the way to the playoff finals at Wembley. The Royals have struggled this season, but Kelly has still scored six goals from midfield. His club boss, Jaap Stam, has compared his playing style to Andres Iniesta.
The diminutive midfielder was named in Ireland squads last year but injury and then playoff commitments prevented him from being able to take his place.
Last April, he told the Irish Independent that he was honoured to get the initial call from O'Neill in the long list for the World Cup qualifier with Scotland.
"That Ireland call is just another (proud) moment in my career that I can look back on, and hopefully in the summer, if I keep doing what I'm doing, I'll get another chance," he said.
"My whole family was delighted; to get an international call is something not many players get so everyone is proud."
Ireland did have better news on the eligibility front earlier this week when Declan Rice confirmed his commitment, although O'Neill was refusing to get carried away by the West Ham player's comments.
He trained with a 24-man group in Belek and has made a good impression. "I think he's pretty strong and hopefully that will work out," said O'Neill. "But, regardless, it's a friendly game here so a total commitment hasn't been made."