STEPHEN KELLY hopes that a good run of form for Ireland in the summer friendly games can put a smile back on his face after an underwhelming season for the Dubliner at club level.
The 2013/14 club campaign ended up in disappointment for Reading as they narrowly missed a place in the promotion playoffs, beaten to it by Brighton on the last day of the season for the final playoff place.
But the season was also something of a let-down for Kelly, who started just one league game in the second half of the season, way back on New Year’s Day, and while compatriot Alex Pearce was almost an ever-present, missing just one of the Royals’ 46 games, Kelly had just 10 league starts in the season.
Now 30, Kelly’s international career has been on hold for the last 12 months as he was handed a starting role in the friendly against Spain in the USA last year but has played in just two of the subsequent nine Ireland matches, so he’s keen to make up for lost time if given a chance against Italy on Saturday.
“Every game for your country and every cap is special but when you have a chance to lift yourself from the club situation it’s even better,” says Kelly, now on 37 senior caps.
“It was a disappointing finish to the season, for me and for the club. We went so close to making the playoffs but didn’t get there in the end.
“When you finish the club season on a disappointment like that you just want to get right back into it again, get going on the pitch and erase the bad memories. So if I can come in and play for Ireland against some of the team who’ll be at the World Cup next month, the likes of Italy and Portugal, then it would be a good finish to the season for me,” added Kelly, admitting that the campaign just gone could have been better.
“It wasn’t the best of seasons for me, I was in the team earlier in the season but then I was in and out of the Reading side, and when I was playing it was at left back, I was happy to play there but my best position is right back,” he says. “It wasn’t a brilliant season so now I am focused on doing well for Ireland, impressing Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill.
“I have done ok so far, I was in the squad for the first two games and I got to play in the match away to Poland, I did well in that match and kept my place in the squad for these four games.”
While some of his compatriots are missing some of the games due to personal commitments, Kelly is available for all of the matches.
“I am feeling fit and looking forward to the three games ahead, I didn’t get to play against Turkey on Sunday but hopefully I can get some game time soon, I’d love to get a run-out against the Italians, especially as it’s back at Fulham, a place I know well. You just want a chance to play and keep yourself in the manager’s thoughts,” he says.
“The manager has had a fairly settled back four since he came in, but he may make changes for Saturday and I want to stake my claim, Italy could be that stage for me.
“Everyone is keen to play. It’s not as if we were all playing in the Champions League group stages and playing 55-60 games a season. The Championship is a tough season, 40-odd games, but you can deal with it as a professional.”
Once the Italy game is out of the way, the focus moves on to the two-game tour of the USA, Kelly one of only five survivors from that 2007 tour still involved, along with Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Anthony Stokes.
“Yeah, I was in the US with Stan, seven years ago now, it seems like a lifetime ago. It was a great experience for me as that was one of my first major away trips with the Irish senior team and I learned a lot,” he says.
“But I was in the USA with Trapattoni’s squad for the Spain game last year, we played the World Cup champions and that was a great test, same way that this game against Italy is a test for us.”
Kelly watched from the bench as Ireland lost to Turkey on Sunday, a tough evening for the home side.
“Sunday was a frustrating game, Turkey showed what a good side they were, we had enough chances to get something from the game but hopefully we can learn lessons,” says Kelly.
“It’s a tough run of games for us now, three teams going to the World Cup, starting with Italy on Saturday.”