Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Maybe it's different for some guys who weren't brought up here - Kelly

David Kelly

David Kelly

"If you're committed to your country, you should be committed 100pc, but not just when it suits."

So says Stephen Kelly, one of the most erudite and candid members of the Irish squad.

If only it were just the media stirring up the increasingly tiresome spotlight of young, rich footballers who seem uninterested in international football.

Instead, it is quite clear that those Irish players who deigned to pitch up in Malahide in this critical qualification build-up campaign are more than grateful to be afforded the opportunity to echo the comments of their current captain, Robbie Keane, and manager, Giovanni Trapattoni.

The proud honour bestowed on Kelly as a former captain of his country lends a particularly weighty authority to his comments, as an ever more precise demarcation becomes evident within this increasingly friendless national team.

"I don't understand it to be honest," continues Kelly (below), the first Belvedere boy to captain his country, when leading Ireland against Uruguay earlier this season.

"For me, it's probably the highest honour you can have in football. You're representing your country. I remember watching World Cups, getting half-days from school, having the street parties. You know the buzz I get thinking back to those days, USA '94 and all of that. The whole country was in uproar, like a craze.

"Even the World Cup when Robbie and Damien (Duff) took part. I remember going to see them coming home at the Phoenix Park. It was just amazing. To be part of that now, for me, words can't describe it.

"I don't get it, I just don't understand it. Maybe it's different for the guys who haven't been brought up here, they don't have the same feel for it, the same Irishness about things. The same background or commonality we all have, seeing these events growing up.

"Of course, we talk about it in the hotel, we'd be like zombies or something if we weren't talking about what's been in the press and what's going on outside. From our point of view, we're all delighted to be here, we love representing Ireland.

"Any opportunity we're given, we'll take it. That's great credit to the players who are here, they've shown that commitment. If you look at this squad, the majority have been on all those friendly tours and the different training camps. I've never missed a call-up since I was 19."

Still, for all the hard-nosed disenchantment being expressed by those Irish players contributing to this debate, there has been little evidence of a constructive solution.

Although not necessarily tithed to the same constituency of character as some of the drop-outs -- Kelly is one of the rare gentlemen among Premier League footballers -- it is still a poor reflection that even he can't offer any greater insight than the fan on the bar stool. "It's hard to go head-to-head with somebody on it," he says, when pressed as to what exactly he, his team-mates or his management can actually do about the situation.

It's a helplessness that appears, on the face of it, to be quite stunning. Within such a context of utter impotence, tensions appear inevitable. "You don't know the ins and outs of the situation. People have said they're injured. If so, fair enough, they haven't been able to make it. Whatever happens, happens. As far as we're concerned, we're happy to be here. If there are other reasons for it (players not showing up), that's not on."

It is difficult to see what may happen when one of the (in)famous five rediscovers the notion that it's good to talk. "It depends on the circumstances of how they come back," adds Kelly.

"Like, if we're to qualify for the Euro 2012 and then people start knocking on the door trying to come back, that's a bit different isn't it? Then you're going to be thinking, 'hold on, we've been here all the time!' If they come back for friendly games, you might say fair enough, accept them back with open arms.

"All Irish people want is 100pc commitment from their team. Nobody expects us to go out and beat Brazil and play amazing football. They want to see the passion that Irish people deserve to see from their international team and they've seen that in the last few days."

Whether they see that rewarded in Macedonia this Saturday will have a huge bearing on whether there remains such a vast cleavage between those who desperately want to play for Ireland -- and those who couldn't be bothered.

Lose, and, like the rest of Ireland's qualifying campaign, the issue will be utterly academic.

Irish Independent

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