Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland star Stephen Kelly hits out at those happy to be part-time internationals

By David Kelly

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

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

If only it were the media interested in propagating the increasingly tiresome spotlight on brazenly rich incommunicado international ingrates.

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 to Kelly as a former captain of his country lends a particular 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, who captained his country 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.

"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 under Brian Kerr."

Even Kelly, though, 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.

"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."

"All Irish people want is 100% 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 the Republic and those who couldn't be bothered.

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

Belfast Telegraph

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