Kelly: Captaining Ireland 'a huge honour'

Stephen Kelly will shake off the misery of more than four months without competitive football when he leads the Republic of Ireland out against World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay tomorrow night.

Stephen Kelly will shake off the misery of more than four months without competitive football when he leads the Republic of Ireland out against World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay tomorrow night.

The 27-year-old Fulham defender last kicked a ball in anger in his country's 2-1 friendly defeat by Norway on November 17, with an ankle injury and his club's improving form having severely limited his opportunities ever since.

However, he will have the chance to prove to club boss Mark Hughes that he has a role to play at Craven Cottage and to Ireland counterpart Giovanni Trapattoni that he can be equally useful to him, when he runs out at the Aviva Stadium against the South Americans.

Kelly, who will line up in central defence along Darren O'Dea, admits he cannot wait for his big night.

He said: "It's a huge honour, a huge privilege. The boss told me this morning.

"It's something you always dream off when you are a kid, first of all to play and represent your country, and then to lead your team out is just one of the of the greatest honours I can possibly ask for in football. I'm extremely happy.

"I have not played for a couple of months, but fitness-wise, I have always been an extremely fit player and being able to come in and play 90 minutes now, I don't think will be a problem to me.

"I am just looking forward to the opportunity and hopefully it's something I can really enjoy.

"It's going to be a difficult game - Uruguay are a strong side. [Luis] Suarez has pulled out, but it still doesn't affect their potency and how tough a game it is going to be.

"It is something I'm really looking forward to and I am delighted with the privilege. Hopefully we can go out there and give a really good account of ourselves."

Kelly admits the last few months have proved hugely frustrating and he has sat by and watched Fulham edge themselves away from the Premier League relegation scrap without being able to help.

However, he insists he is ready, willing and able to take his chance when it comes along.

He said: "It's difficult. At Christmas, I got injured and had a little injection in my ankle and missed out, and since then, the team has picked up points and has been gradually getting better.

"You look at the table and it's very tight, but we have been playing good football and you just have to wait for your chance to get back in.

"Everybody has been fit and the team has stayed consistent for the last two months, so it has just been waiting for an opportunity while I have been sitting on the bench.

"Hopefully it will come soon."

Trapattoni has drafted Kelly into central defence with Sean St Ledger injured and Richard Dunne having been released from the squad along with several other senior colleagues.

However, he is confident he will slip easily into a job he has not done for some time, but knows well.

Kelly said: "I started off as a centre-back. When I first went to Tottenham, I was a centre-back. My debut at Tottenham was at centre-back, so that's where they saw me and where I played."

Trapattoni has made wholesale changes to the side which beat Macedonia 2-1 on Saturday evening with only keeper Keiren Westwood, right-back Kevin Foley and central defender O'Dea retained, and that will mean a first start for 20-year-old James McCarthy, who made his debut as a substitute at the weekend.

Kelly said: "This season, he has come on to the scene and he's done very well for Wigan, he has been a bit of a talisman for them - goals, creative play.

"Only time will tell to see how far he actually pushes his potential, it's up to him to see where he wants to go.

"But at the moment, he has definitely come on to the scene with a bang and he's proving in the league that he's a top player and he's a very important player to Wigan.

"Over the next couple of seasons, we will see how he grows and develops, and if he keeps on going the way he is, he will definitely be a big player for us and his team, whoever that may be."

Anthony Stokes and Damien Delaney have been added to the squad after Glenn Whelan withdrew with a back problem and Marc Wilson pulled out because of illness.

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