Alan’s World Cup memories

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly
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The start of the World Cup in Brazil has brought the memories flooding back of past tournaments for Alan Kelly.

Preston’s goalkeeper coach was in the Republic of Ireland squad for both the 1994 and 2002 World Cups.

While he did not see action in either having been back-up to Packie Bonner and then Shay Given, both were action-packed experiences for Kelly.

Twenty years ago in the burning heat of the United States, the Irish caused a big shock by beating Italy in their opening group game and making it through to the knock-out stages.

In South Korea in 2002, they again made it through the group, only to be beaten by Spain on penalties in the last 16.

However, Roy Keane’s dramatic walk-out from the squad before a ball was kicked is what many people remember of the Irish in that tournament.

Kelly, 45, admits that the 1994 World Cup seems light-years away from the current offering.

“You look at the facilities in Brazil, the training pitches, the armed guards who accompany the teams,” Kelly told the Evening Post.

“In 1994 our hotel was completely open, anyone could walk in. We would come back from training and be met with hundreds of Ireland fans.

“It was a really incredible experience, I suppose it was the last one when players were so accessible to the supporters.

“There was none of the sports science then, we went there with one physio and a kitman – it was a simple approach.

“The flip side of that is that we will never know how well we could have done had we had better resources.

“One thing which really stands out from 1994 is that we weren’t allowed to have water during the games.

“The referees would be trying to stop players having a drink during breaks in the game. Can you imagine that now? I remember Jack Charlton, pictured below, going absolutely mad on the touchline because officials wouldn’t let water bottles be passed to the players.

“He was probably dehydrated himself and had started to go a bit crazy because it was so hot!

“Ireland were sponsored by Guinness in that World Cup and Jack had a keg of the black stuff set up in his hotel room as part of the deal.

“Now and then we got invited for a quick half pint before quickly getting ushered out again!

“We started off the 1994 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Italy, Ray Houghton scored a great goal.

“What is tough for a group of players at a major tournament is the length of time you are away.

“You need a good group who get on well with one another, otherwise there will be a lot of problems as some countries have found over the years.

“We used to call it Cabin Fever, players would start feeling a bit homesick in the third week of being together.

“You could see it coming and it was just about managing it properly.”

Kelly’s next taste of the World Cup came in 2002 when it was jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan.

“There were all the fireworks before the tournament with what happened with Roy Keane,” said Kelly.

“In the end it was just a pleasure to get playing so that we could concentrate on the football.

“Unfortunately the efforts of the Irish players got overlooked in 2002 because of the pre-tournament drama.

“But I will always remember Robbie Keane’s 95th minute equaliser against Germany and a glorious defeat to Spain on penalties.”

Moving to the present day tournament and Kelly adopts the thinking of many people by predicting the World Cup won’t be leaving South America.

Hosts Brazil are favourites, with arch rivals and neighbours Argentina not far behind in the running.

Kelly said: “You have to think that the conditions will suit the South Americans.

“ Argentina have some unbelievable players and to a certain extent it is next door to them.

“The pressure is going to be on Brazil as the host nation.

“People might write-off England and say they won’t get out of the group, but I can see them doing alright.

“It might be that one of the youngsters comes through and makes an impact like Michael Owen did in 1998.

“Sometimes being a bit raw can be a good thing because you play with no fear.

“These lads have experience of the Premier League but are unproven at international level.

“That might not be a bad thing because it takes the pressure off.

“Germany will do well as always, they are strong, physical and organised, and know what it takes to get to the knock-out stage.”