Kelly to draw on Euro experience for trip to Yerevan
Stephen Kelly will not be fazed whatever he finds when he walks onto the pitch at the Yerevan Republican Stadium on Friday.
The Ireland defender and his team-mates will launch their Euro 2012 campaign in Armenia desperate to get off to a good start, but while many of them will be walking into the unknown, Kelly will have a good idea of what to expect after his Europa League adventure with his club Fulham last season.
The Londoners made it all the way to the final, only to be undone by the brilliance of Diego Forlan, after a remarkable journey that took them to, among other places, Perm, Donetsk, Sofia and Wolfsburg, each of them presenting their own particular challenges. That experience will serve 26-year-old Kelly well as he attempts to force his way into Giovanni Trapattoni's plans, a task which may have come a step closer to fruition after Paul McShane was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury.
Kelly said: "It's not easy to play in places like Armenia -- I got a taste of that in the European run with Fulham last season.
"We played in places like Perm in Russia, Donetsk in Ukraine, Sofia in Bulgaria, Vetra in Lithuania -- we went there and came away with good results.
"I know what to expect now for this game. I know what it's like to have a six-hour or seven-hour flight and play in a hostile place with a small stadium and a vocal crowd.
"I had never heard of Perm or Vetra before, but you just had to go there and get the result.
"When we arrived in Perm for the game, there was a big crowd there waiting for us, all dressed in black with sickles in their hands and banners saying 'Rest In Peace'.
"It was crazy stuff. It was 12 at night when we were coming off the bus and here you basically had a lynch mob waiting for us.
"Hopefully, it won't be like that in Armenia, but we will be prepared right for the trip and the game."
Ireland were unbeaten away from home during their World Cup qualifying campaign, which saw them return from clashes with Georgia, Montenegro, Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria and, in the play-offs, France, with at least a share of the spoils.
However, Kelly knows just how hard they had to work for each of those results.
"I know some fans will look at Armenia and think it's a handy three points for us," he said.
"Or at least a game we are expected to win, but we have to be completely on our game to get a result out there.
"I think we need to win the game if we are serious about winning the group. For us to put our stamp on the group and show that we are serious, we need to be winning games like this.
"We have to aim for six points form the first two matches to make a statement to the likes of Russia and Slovakia that we are a team to be afraid of.
"We have the talent and the ability to go there and win, and with the confidence we had from the way we finished the World Cup campaign and the wins in the friendlies (against Paraguay and Algeria) in May, we can go there and win."