Kelly hoping Irish can create positive Macedonian memories

DAMIEN DUFF was flying and Richard Dunne was even firing shots on goal at Gannon Park yesterday but, even with good vibes and gorgeous sunshine abounding, it just wouldn’t be an Irish training session without fresh injury worries.

Seamus Coleman didn’t take part and it was later confirmed he will sit out the game.

The big focus is on Sean St Ledger who also missed the session with a knock to the knee sustained in training on Tuesday, with Darren O’Dea partnering Dunne at centre-back in his absence — something of a surprise for the many who thought that Ciaran Clark was first in line as central defensive cover.

Still, goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly was anxious that St Ledger not be prematurely ruled out of tomorrow’s game against Macedonia. “We’re giving him as much time as possible,” he said. “Twenty-four hours can make a big difference. The problem is around the knee area. It was boot to boot. He kicked Ciaran Clark’s leg. It was an impact injury and he’ll be assessed again. You’re discounting Sean St Ledger too soon. As I say, 24 hours is a long time.

“You saw me dragging Duffer off the training pitch which is always a good thing to see. He’s looking as fit as ever, he’s done a full session today so that’s a massive plus for us.

“And Richard Dunne is grand. He’s been here for two training sessions now and he seems fine. He even got involved in the shooting so he must be feeling pretty healthy and happy.”

Afterwards Dunne himself, along with the returning Robbie Keane, both confirmed they’re rearing to go tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, Kelly was the man between the sticks on the two previous occasions when tomorrow night’s opponents effectively dashed Irish hopes of big tournament qualification, with a 3-2 defeat in 1997 and a 1-1 draw in 1999, both games away in Skopje.

So then, Alan Kelly: Macedonia — discuss.

“Disgusted,” he shoots back with a laugh.

“The first game — Alan McLoughlin scored, upset them and they came at us. Jason McAteer and Terry Phelan got done for handball for penalties and later McAteer got sent off with his kung-fu kick/Jackie Chan impression. It was just one of those games. Their centre-forward who went to Barnsley, can’t remember his name,” — (Georgi Hristov, he’s informed) — “thank you, I’d erased that from the memory, he bent one in the top corner. It was just one of those horrible times, really, when they came to the fore and announced their intentions on the world stage. And unfortunately, we — and I — were on the receiving end of it.

“Then there was ’99. I tipped the ball out for a corner and I said to the referee, ‘how long is left’ and he said: ‘They take the corner — it’s finished.’ Famous last words. Nine seconds from being at a major championship. But that happens.”

And this time? Well, Alan Kelly, for one, is confident that history won’t repeat itself at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night.

“If you look at the big games we’ve played,” he said, “like against the French, the Italians, Bulgaria away; if we play how we can — high tempo, stick to what we’re good at and be disciplined enough to do it — then we’ll be fine. We really will.”

Picture: Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly speaks to the media after training yesterday. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

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