Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ireland's Forgotten Man

In Poland throughout June twenty-three Irish players under the tutelage of the wily Giovanni Trapattoni represented their country in a major international tournament for the first time in ten years. However, Kevin Kilbane, for so long a definite fixture in Ireland's XI, this summer he will be staying at home - actually not true considering he's in Poland working for the Beeb, but still - having had his dream to feature at the Euros cut short by a "cold" and "methodical" phone-call from Il Trap. Instead, Wolverhampton Wanderer's left-back Stephen Ward will be taking his place.

Kilbane enjoyed arguably the highest point of his career at the World Cup in South Korea in 2002. Five years after taking his international bow, he was part of Mick McCarthy's squad that progressed to the last 16 having progressed from the group. From the defeat to Spain on penalties, Kilbane remained Ireland's left-back for a further nine years, before finally relinquishing the duty to the up-and-coming Stephen Ward. As the years passed by so did the game and he was progressively struggling to keep with the pace of the English Premier League. Everton offloaded him to Wigan, who subsequently offloaded him to Hull and from there to Huddersfield Town in League One and Derby County in the Championship. It was clear Hull had no place for him and so the former Irish left-back, having accumulated over one-hundred international caps, has a future which now seems unclear.

It's a well-noted fact that 'Killer' was technically a severely limited player when he was playing. But like Gary Neville, Kilbane was someone who succeeded thanks to sheer hard work as he consistently gave his all. At left-wing for example, for Ireland his defensive work was highly praised as he often covered up for Ian Harte's defensive deficiencies. Originally a left-winger but later converted to full-back, Kilbane revelled in this new role for a plethora of Premier League sides, with various clubs looking for his services. Under David Moyes at Everton he did more than just moonlight at left-back, displaying great versatility, having been employed as a support striker as well right of midfield. This was at a time when the promising and prodigious Stewart Downing had just broken into the Middlesborough first XI and Moyes stated that Kilbane was just as good as Downing, which was quite a compliment at the time - even if he has been a bit shit since signing for everyones favourite Merseysiders - having operated in many different positions that day as Thomas Gravesen had recently for Real Madrid.

Despite his flailing club career Kilbane remained a regular at full-back for Ireland. His sixty-six successive appearances for Ireland - a run stretching back to 2003 - ended prematurely due to a back injury before the game against Slovakia last year before handing the role to Stephen Ward. Since then he's barely featured at both club level and international level. He has, however, kept himself firmly on Irish TV sets as he tends to appear now and again on our screens for the lovelies at RTE, alongside Dunphy, Liam Brady and Johnny Giles.

Kilbane could have easily pulled a 'Stephen Ireland' - to forge a pathetic, ill-informed excuse very much susceptible to ridicule (for those of you not familiar with this technique) - and forfeited his role in the Irish set up. But he was better than that; Kilbane was a committed, dedicated player, and at thirty-four, always gave everything he had but, sadly, there's an expiration date on all of us and unfortunately his expired sooner than others. That's why we had to say goodbye to our so famously dubbed and beloved 'Zinedine Kilbane' a little too early.

P.S At 37, Shay's next.

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