Spotlight: Kevin Kilbane
As Kevin Kilbane prepares for his 107th cap in tomorrow night’s Ireland-Russia Euro 2012 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium, we take a look back at his football career so far.
Born in Preston in1977, Kevin Kilbane was not always destined to be an Irish international soccer player. Although he had Irish parents, Kilbane has always had a thick Lancashire accent. He joined his local club as an academy scholar, and played 48 league games in two seasons for Preston North End from 1995 to 1997. He also played seven cup games for the Deepdale side and scored three goals from left-wing along the way.
On the 13th of June 1997, West Bromwich Albion broke the club record transfer fee to sign the 20-year-old Kilbane for £1 million. He immediately became a first team player for WBA, and this brought him to the attention of Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy. McCarthy gave Kilbane his first taste of international football against Iceland in the 1998 World Cup Qualifiers. Ireland won the match 4-2 thanks to two goals from Roy Keane, and one apiece from David Connolly and Mark Kennedy. Kilbane wore number eleven and started the match on the left, a position he would hold for a considerable amount of games under McCarthy.
Kilbane had two solid years at West Brom, scoring an impressive 15 goals in 106 league games for the club. Although Kilbane was playing well, the team itself were stuck in limbo in the First Division, not really making any progress up the table. This encouraged Kilbane to move away from the Hawthorns, and to Peter Reid’s Sunderland, who also spent big to sign the winger. In the days before transfer windows, Kilbane moved to the Black Cats in December 1999 for £2.2 million, and set up the match winning goal with a cross for Kevin Phillips on his debut.
He spent four years at the Stadium of Light, all the while kitting out for Ireland in international games. He helped Ireland progress to the biggest stage of all, the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea with strong displays in qualifying against Holland and Portugal, and scored against Finland in a 3-0 home win in November 2000, for his first ever international goal. In the same campaign, he also hit the net against Andorra both home and away as Ireland came second behind Portugal in Group B.
Keeping number 11, Kilbane was selected among Mick McCarthy’s 23 man squad to go to Asia. He was one of only a few players to play every single minute of every game for Ireland as we progressed to the second-round along with Germany from Group E. In the second round, we came up against a well-respected Spanish side, and when Robbie Keane slotted home a late, late penalty, the match went into extra time, and then to a penalty shoot-out. Kilbane was one of the few players brave enough to take a penalty, and unfortunately it was saved by Iker Casillas is Spain’s goal.
On the last day of the summer transfer window in 2003, Kilbane was bought by Everton for £750,000 after 113 league games at Sunderland. The Liverpool club were then under the leadership of David Moyes, who had been one of Kilbane’s coach at Preston. Moyes was a big fan of Kilbane, and played him in a variety of roles for the Toffees – even up front in a few games. It was here also, that Kevin got his first taste of playing at left-back, the position he currently plays for Ireland.
Kilbane spent three seasons at Everton, and picked up many more Ireland caps under national new boss Brian Kerr. Kilbane even scored in Kerr’s first game in charge, a 2-0 away win over Scotland at Hampden Park. His next goal came away to the Faroe Islands in a World Cup qualifier in June 2005. Kilbane was ever present in both Ireland and Everton teams, and played 104 league games for the club before moving to Wigan Athletic on the last day of August 2006. The Latics paid £2 million for his services, and he quickly became a fan favourite. In his second season at the club, Kilbane was moved to left full back and won the team’s fans’ website Player of the Year Award.
His third season with Wigan wasn’t as successful, and after 76 league games for the club, Kilbane felt he needed to move on to further his career. In the 2009 January transfer window, he moved to his sixth club, Hull City. The transfer fee was undisclosed, but was rumoured to be about £500,000, making his total fees to date £6.25 million. He has played 42 league games so far for the Tigers, and has scored one goal from left back – against Burnley in April.
He continues to be a regular international player under new Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni, and has played 61 consecutive competitive games to date – which will be 62 if he features tomorrow night. In October, he played his 100th game for Ireland against Montenegro, alongside Shay Given, with the two men becoming only the second and third Irish players to reach that milestone. When he made his 100th cap, current Wolves and former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy was full of praise for the player fans call Zinedine Kilbane. “I remember Kevin’s debut well,” McCarthy recalls. “It’s not unfair to say he didn’t have the best of days against Iceland. I brought Mark Kennedy on for him at half-time and he got sent off, but we went on to win 4-2.
“He’s been fantastic, and not only did I love him but Brian Kerr loved him, Steve Staunton loved him and Giovanni Trapattoni is picking him. Four international managers have picked him for more than 50 consecutive matches. That says all you need to know about ‘Killer’.
“He was an integral part of my team and gave us the balance which made us hard to beat. Kevin was not a flighty, tricky winger but he was effective in other ways and never afraid to defend and put his shift in.
“He was just ‘Mr Reliable’ for me. And I know he’s been the same for every manager he’s played for. We’re talking about people like Peter Reid, Steve Bruce, David Moyes and Phil Brown. And you could not wish to meet a nicer bloke. Kevin has had his critics, but he thoroughly deserves the recognition he’s now getting.”
Kevin Kilbane is currently Ireland’s joint-highest capped player, and if he plays in nine more consecutive competitive matches, he will hold the record for the most ever from any nation – eclipsing England’s Billy Wright who played 70 in a row in the 1940s and 1950s.