Ireland may have ended a 10-year wait to return to a major tournament, but that achievement alone isn’t good enough. The fans want more − exciting youngsters and a more attacking style.
Such demands perplex Stephen Kelly. He grew up in an era when the Boys in Green were lauded for their efforts, but the Fulham defender – set to be part of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 squad – can’t fathom how things have changed.
Highlighting Ireland’s rise to 19th in FIFA’s rankings, a terrific away record and an unbeaten run of 12 games as indicators of how well Trapattoni’s team have been doing, he feels the team deserves a lot more credit than it is getting.
‘I can’t understand it [the negativity]. Every time I’m back with the Irish team and doing media, you always get asked about tactics, the shape of the team and how we’re playing. I feel myself wanting to say, “Listen, this team has achieved things that no other Irish team has achieved”.
‘We’ve gone on an unbeaten run that is the best in our history. We’ve missed out on one major tournament in the World Cup, which was no fault of our own. It was (France’s) Thierry Henry. We’ve qualified for another one now and the team has gone from strength to strength.
‘People go on about how we play tactically and stuff, but throughout my whole memory of Irish football I don’t ever remember us being like a Barcelona or a Spain. We never really pass it or been an amazing football team.
‘The song I remember growing up was Put ’Em Under Pressure and that is what we do. We’ve always had talented players who can get us goals and wins, but it’s always been about the team, always a team effort. Everything we’ve got, we’ve worked hard for. This team emulates that.
‘People are going to say what they want because they want to create headlines for whatever reason, but we are doing the business on the pitch and if we do it during the summer it will be the same again,’ said Kelly, in Dublin to promote ESPN’s Premier League and SPL coverage.
‘Everyone knows how much of an achievement it is to get to a major tournament. I don’t remember Euro 88 and I only saw a video of Italia 90. The 1994 World Cup is the one that made me as a kid.
‘I remember the flags out of windows, getting half days from school to watch games, the country goes into pandemonium. All I remember is the joy from watching us play in those tournaments and the excitement when it happens. If we have anything like that this summer it will be amazing.’
Kelly, though, knows his club form at Fulham must remain consistent to ensure he makes the 23-man Irish squad for Poland. He has made 25 appearances for the Londoners this season following Martin Jol’s arrival as manager, far more than his 13 games last season.
‘I’m playing for Fulham now week in, week out and I’m loving it. The more I play the better opportunity it gives me for the summer,’ stated Kelly, who got nine caps with Ireland last year.
‘The fact I’m playing with Damien Duff in front of me every week is great. We’re really linking up well and showing what we’re capable of as a combination.’