Stephen Kelly admits he cannot wait for the Republic of Ireland’s new qualifying campaign to get under way after a positive start to Martin O’Neill’s reign.
The 30-year-old Reading defender was handed a 37th senior cap as he played the full 90 minutes in Tuesday night’s 0-0 friendly draw in Poland, which followed hot on the heels of a 3-0 victory over Latvia in the new manager’s first game in charge.
Ireland will learn in February which nations stand between them and their hopes of making it to the Euro 2016 finals when the draw is made, but optimism is already growing with the memories of their failure to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil under Giovanni Trapattoni starting to fade.
Kelly said: “Fingers crossed, that’s the plan. The new management team comes in and everybody is looking to perform, the goal is now qualification.
“Everybody is going to be judged on how we do when it gets to those times.
“Friendlies – it’s great to perform in them and great to do well in them, but it’s the games in the qualifiers which are the ones we are going to be judged on, so when it gets to them in September, we will see how we go then.”
In the short-term, O’Neill will be able to reflect upon a hugely positive first 10 days getting to know his players on and off the pitch.
The initial signs are promising, but the manager has acknowledged there is much work still to be done.
Kelly said: “The manager has come in and he has got a squad of players – he knows a couple of the lads from working with them at club level, but the majority of them, he probably doesn’t know because he wouldn’t have worked with us before.
“It’s for him to come in, take notice in training, watch us, see how we perform in the game and then judge what he wants and what he thinks is the best for us.”
Much of the buzz surrounding O’Neill’s appointment has centred around his choice as number two, former Ireland skipper Roy Keane, a man who continues to divide opinion in his native country.
But the response from the players has been one of delight, and as one of the few members of the squad to have worked alongside Keane in the past, Kelly is well-placed to judge his input to date.
He said: “I was fortunate enough to actually be in the squad with Roy back when Brian Kerr was in [as manager]. Back then, I was probably so young, I didn’t really speak to him that much.
“But he has been so relaxed and so calm. I suppose he has got a persona, hasn’t he, obviously in the press with this ’bad cop’ stuff? But it’s been excellent and the atmosphere has been fantastic.
“They both know exactly what they are talking about when it comes to football, and that’s all good for the future, and they got the best out of the team for the two games.”