Belfast Telegraph

Fulham’s Kelly returns to football with Republic armband

By Damian Spellman

Stephen Kelly will shake off the misery of more than four months without competitive football when he leads the Republic of Ireland out against World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay tonight.

The 27-year-old Fulham defender last kicked a ball in anger in his country's 2-1 friendly defeat by Norway on November 17, with an ankle injury and his club's improving form having severely limited his opportunities ever since.

However, he will have the chance to prove to club boss Mark Hughes that he has a role to play at Craven Cottage and to Ireland counterpart Giovanni Trapattoni that he can be equally useful to him, when he runs out at the Aviva Stadium against the South Americans.

Kelly, who will line up in central defence along Darren O'Dea, admits he cannot wait for his big night.

He said: “It's a huge honour, a huge privilege. The boss told me this morning.

“It's something you always dream off when you are a kid, first of all to play and represent your country, and then to lead your team out is just one of the of the greatest honours I can possibly ask for in football.

“I have not played for a couple of months, but fitness-wise, I have always been an extremely fit player and being able to come in and play 90 minutes now, I don't think will be a problem to me.

“I am just looking forward to the opportunity and hopefully it's something I can really enjoy.

“It's going to be a difficult game — Uruguay are a strong side. [Luis] Suarez has pulled out, but it still doesn't affect their potency and how tough a game it is going to be.

“It is something I'm really looking forward to and I am delighted with the privilege. Hopefully we can go out there and give a really good account of ourselves.”

Anthony Stokes and Damien Delaney have been added to the Republic squad after Glenn Whelan withdrew with a back problem and Marc Wilson pulled out because of illness.

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