Sunday 25 February 2018

Kelly recounts painful memories of Macedonia

Former Ireland goalkeeper Alan Kelly Photo: Getty Images
Former Ireland goalkeeper Alan Kelly Photo: Getty Images

Alan Kelly is perfectly placed to warn the current crop of Republic of Ireland internationals how dangerous Macedonia can be.

The 42-year-old, now Giovanni Trapattoni's goalkeeping coach, was in goal the night Ireland lost 3-2 in Skopje in 1997 and again when a last-gasp Macedonian equaliser denied them automatic qualification for Euro 2000.

Memories of those two setbacks have inevitably come flooding back this week and while Kelly can raise a smile now, his emotions were very different at the time.

He said, laughing: "How dare you bring that up? It's taken me a lot of years of counselling to get over that!"

Asked what he recalled of games which have etched themselves into to the national psyche, Kelly added: "Jason McAteer getting sent off doing a Jackie Chan impression...

"The first time over there, we lost 3-2, two penalties, Jason got sent off. I think Alan McLoughlin scored first and upset them and they came back at us.

"The second one is well documented. Being nine seconds or 12 seconds from qualifying for Euro 2000, it was a sickening blow.

"When you look back now, you look back on instances and situations in your career, and you think, 'Nine seconds...'.

"I had made a save and tipped it for the corner, and I said: 'Referee, referee, the time?', and he said, 'They take the corner, I blow the whistle'. The rest is history.

"Unfortunately, it didn't go for us, but that's life, isn't it?"

Kelly will be on the bench at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening when the Republic take on their counterparts from Macedonia once again with three precious Euro 2012 qualification points at stake.

This weekend's visitors have lost on both their previous visits to Dublin, but the scars left by the wounds inflicted in the former Yugoslav republic run deep.

That said, Kelly is one of the few men in the camp who remember those games, and while he could be forgiven for re-running them in his head, his main concentration this week has been on preparing his latest successor for a big night.

With Shay Given injured, Coventry goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is in line to win his sixth cap, but his first in a competitive game, and Kelly has no worries about the 26-year-old's readiness to take over Given's mantle.

He said: "They have both got a pair of boots and a pair of gloves and they both tend to get in the way of the ball, which is a good habit to get into.

"Listen, every 'keeper is different, every player is different in terms of what they bring to the table.

"I just look back to the games against Algeria and Paraguay last year and he (Westwood) acquitted himself very, very well. He came for some great crosses and contributed to two fine victories, so that says it all, really.

"He has just got to take what he has done in those two games in the summer and the five caps he has got and transfer that into this game coming up.

"Okay, there are pounds, shillings and pence on it and the points, and that's where the pressure comes in, but so far, he has been superb and I have no reason to think that won't continue."

Westwood's club future has been the subject of speculation for some time with his current contract due to expire at the end of the season and several Barclays Premier League clubs among his potential suitors.

Kelly for one has no doubts that he could play at a higher level.

He said: "You look at the quality that's around, and he is up there with the best of them.

"He is out of contract in the summer, so that is going to be very attractive to a lot of clubs, and he has proved himself, and that's all you ask.

"When you are pitched into an arena or a situation, you sink or swim, and he has swum very well so far."

Defender Sean St Ledger was once again conspicuous by his absence at training this morning as he rests the knee he damaged earlier in the week with Kelly saying a decision on him will be taken after he is assessed tomorrow, but Damien Duff was able to join in for the first time.

Press Association

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