Ireland v Oman

Home comforts for content Kelly

September 11, 2012
By Miguel Delaney

On Tuesday, Stephen Kelly will find himself in a pretty unique situation. The Fulham full-back will, oddly, be playing an international game at his regular club stadium as Ireland take on Oman at Craven Cottage. Essentially, he'll be home away from home.

Stephen Kelly Ireland training
PA PhotosStephen Kelly is a team-mate of Duff at Fulham

"It's not something you get to experience that often in your career," Kelly says. "It's interesting. I've played twice for Ireland at Craven Cottage in the past, against Nigeria and Colombia, but at the time I wasn't a Fulham player so it doesn't mean as much.

"It's a lovely venue. There's a lot of charm about it. The way the ground is, its situation on the river, it probably is one of the nicest grounds in the Premier League."

As regards the Irish squad, though, Kelly also finds himself as part of another pretty unique - if much less desirable - group: he was one of five outfield players to not get a single minute of action during Euro 2012.

Unfortunately for Giovanni Trapattoni, the effects of that didn't stop at the Polish border. Just last Saturday, another member of the unfortunate five - Darron Gibson - withdrew from the Irish squad out of apparent frustration at his treatment during Euro 2012.

The decision set the tone for the week as rumours of widespread discontent among the players formed the backdrop to Ireland's qualifier in Kazakhstan, which they eventually won 2-1 in frantic circumstances. A fractious debate has ensued over whether Trapattoni's man-management is failing him or it is simply a case of spoiled modern professionals unwilling to accept authority.

Whatever the accuracy of either stance, you could never accuse Kelly of the latter. And, although he shared Gibson's deep disappointment during Euro 2012, he wouldn't follow his course of action.

"I love playing for Ireland, I want to represent my country but, like I said, [not playing] is part and parcel of football. It's something you have to deal with. Don't get me wrong, I was devastated.

"I didn't get the chance to play and that was obviously very hard to take having played a lot of games in the build-up. That's something you have to take on the chin."

Above his chin, meanwhile, a smile usually dominates Kelly's face. Down to earth and very decent, he's the kind of individual who, despite all the rancour around the Irish team at the moment, is prepared to find a positive in anything. And there was a big one in Poland.

"The experience as a whole, the one thing I'm going to take is the supporters, how amazing they were. I've never experienced anything like that in my life. It was just out of this world how vocal they were, lifting us through every game. It was mind-blowing. I just have to thank them. It did [offset the football] to an extent ... when I think of the fans it puts a smile on my face."

That, of course, leads to a bigger question: whether there many smiles in the Irish squad at the moment. "The feeling in the camp is very good. Everybody is just disappointed with how it went [in the Euros] and we feel we have a bit to prove. We felt we let a lot of fans down and people want to put that right."

Stephen Kelly: Staying at Fulham
GettyImagesStephen Kelly: Fulham full-back

There is a growing feeling, however, that can only happen if Trapattoni at the very least alters the approach of his team. Having seen his outdated 4-4-2 continuously outmanoeuvred in Poland, the manager persisted with the formation against Kazakhstan while inexplicably playing long-ball football against such an inferior side.

On the subject of Trapattoni's perceived conservatism, Kelly is an interesting position to comment. When picked, he is in one of the most criticised and notorious roles in the Italian's system: he is a full-back who, unusually for the modern, doesn't get to make too many forays forward.

"I think that's been a little overstated in the press that we're under strict instructions not to get across the halfway line. The manager has got a sense of this team and, if the opportunity is there to get forward, [we] take it. I've played a lot for this manager, I've got more caps under Trapattoni than anyone else. I don't think that's been a hindrance to me."

The genial Kelly, it seems, will never be a hindrance to any manager.

• For tickets, from £5-20, for Ireland's meeting with Oman at Craven Cottage, click here