Whelan impact no surprise for Kelly

Schoolboy memories came flooding back for Republic of Ireland winger Stephen Kelly as he watched Glenn Whelan arrive on the senior international stage.

The two 24-year-olds grew up in Dublin and learned their football together as teenagers.

On Saturday night at Croke Park, full-back Kelly collected his 11th full cap as Whelan was handed his first, and the assurance with which the Stoke midfielder handled his elevation came as no surprise to his team-mate.

Kelly said: “I have known Glenn since we were kids. We have played together since we were 12 all the way up, so I know what Glenn is capable of. He came in and did what I know he is capable of. He did really well.”

Whelan’s performance in a central midfield partnership with Liam Miller was one of the features of manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s first game in charge, which ended in a 1-1 draw with a talented Serbia side.

With barely a week on the training pitch under his belt, the Italian was satisfied with what he saw from his players as they attempted to put into practice what he has been telling them.

That they managed to remain unbeaten as they did so was a bonus, even if it did take an injury-time equaliser from substitute Andy Keogh to peg the Serbs back.

Kelly said: “There were a few lads winning their first caps and it was a good performance from everybody.

“We played well and everybody enjoyed the game. The manager was happy, so the fans have got something to look forward to.

“There are players to come back into the team as well, but it is good that the lads who have come in have done well and it shows there is strength in depth in the squad.”

Ireland will head for London on Wednesday for a friendly clash with Colombia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage the following night.

That will give Trapattoni a further chance to look at what he has at his disposal as he plots a path to the World Cup qualifying campaign, which gets under way in Georgia in September.

The Italian has insisted from the off he knows all about the high-profile players in his squad, and has instead concentrated in the last week or so on the next echelon.

Whelan’s emergence has been a real bonus, as has that of striker Keogh, whose first senior international goal was his third for his country in a week after training match strikes against Portimonese and Lagos in Portugal.

He had only been on the pitch for nine minutes when Daryl Murphy flicked the ball on to him, but his volley, which cancelled out Marko Pantelic’s 75th-minute strike, was instinctive and decisive.

Kelly said: “What a strike from Keogh, it was a great finish.

“He was just on the pitch and it was one of his first touches, and to put it away was a great strike and a great finish.”

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