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David Kelly enjoys a Jack Charlton hug in 1995.
David Kelly enjoys a Jack Charlton hug in 1995.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

'Jack Charlton asked me to play for Ireland, turned his back and finished his pint'

Former Ireland striker David Kelly recalls his days in the green jersey and the meeting with Jack Charlton that changed his life.
May 29th 2013, 12:00 PM 20,567 4

DAVID KELLY IS the last player to score for Ireland against England.

Though FIFA chose not to award caps for the friendly match that was abandoned, due to hooliganism, Kelly cherishes the goal as highly as the other nine he scored in the green jersey.

Now an assistant manager at Nottingham Forest, under Scottish manager Billy Davies, Kelly tells how a cold Tuesday night match for Walsall against Rotherham was the beginning of a 10-year international career that took him, as part of Jack’s Army, to three major tournaments.

“We played a league match on a Tuesday night and I scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Rotherham. After the game, the chairman came into the dressing room and said ‘There’s a fella upstairs and he wants a chat for five minutes.

I was taken through the boardroom and Jack Charlton was standing at the bar having a pint. He was with Maurice Setters – an absolute gentleman. Jack turns as says to me ‘I want you to play for me son’. I said ‘That’d be great’.

Jack told me to expect a letter, confirming the call-up, in a couple of weeks. Then he turned his back and finished his pint.

The Ireland ‘wall’ check to see if Packie Bonner stopped what they could not. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

To get a hat-trick on my debut (against Israel) was amazing. Dalymount was crammed to the rafters. You can dream that type of stuff but nobody ever thinks it will ever really happen. I was playing with such great players so it made my job easy.

I never once complained about my role as a substitute after that. It wasn’t for me to say or have an opinion about. The reason I did well, and had such a long career, is that I gave 100%, 100% of the time.  We had such a strong squad back then and qualifying for Euro 88, Italia 90 and USA 94 proves that Jack knew what he was doing.

Getting to Euro 88, and how we got there – with somebody else (Scotland’s Gary Mackay) scoring for us, was special. Going to Rome and meeting The Pope was memorable too. In America I got the start against Norway at Giants Stadium when Jack was sent to the stands.

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Roy Keane and Paul McGrath in action at USA ’94. (©INPHO/Allsport)

The two best players I ever shared a pitch with were Paul McGrath and Roy Keane. It is a word that is bandied about an awful lot but those two were truly world-class. They are really good people; different type of people. It felt fantastic to play with them both.

Paul never gave the ball away, no-one got in behind him, no-one won a header or a tackle against him. Roy had this desire, commitment and an incredible will to win. Let’s not forget that he could score goals, and create them too, but he did like a tackle too, in the good-old days when you could really throw yourself into a tackle.

Kelly celebrates a Derry City win with Paddy McLaughlin and Sean Friars. (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

In 2002 (four years after finishing up with Ireland) I was 36 and thinking about what would happen next. I was asked to play for Wrexham and I was looking into coaching when I got a call from a mate at Tranmere. He asked me if I’d consider chatting to Jim Roddy about playing for Derry City. I though ‘Right, OK, that’s a fresh one’.

Jim flew over to Birmingham and we had a chat. I was impressed by him and said OK but we agreed we would shake hands and if a playing or coaching job up in the U.K I would head back over.

It turned out that I played nine times for Derry and my last ever appearance was in the FAI Cup Final, which we won. That’ll do for me.”

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