Kelly: We are in confident mood
Stephen Kelly is desperate not to add another hard luck story to the Republic of Ireland's catalogue of play-off heartache. Six times previously, the Republic have headed into the dramatic showdowns with high hopes and on only one occasions to date - against Iran ten years ago - have they emerged victorious.
But it is their demise at the hands of France in particular during the last FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign which is fuelling their mission this time around. France denied Giovanni Trapattoni's men of a trip to South Africa, and erasing those bitter memories will be the number one priority when they run out against Estonia in Tallinn on Friday evening with a place at the UEFA EURO 2012 finals at stake.
Asked how keen he is to be able to put that history of heroic failure behind him, Kelly said: "Desperate. Obviously, the freshest in the memory is still France and everybody has got that scar, that wound still there.
"It's something that if we qualify now, hopefully that will be papered over and that will be it, we can forget about it and it will be all done. It's fresh in our minds and we are all keen to not let something like that happen again."
Fulham full-back Kelly, 28, grew up in Ireland as the Jack Charlton era reached its peak, and remembers with fondness how the nation came to a standstill during the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals in the USA with Ray Houghton's goal sinking the mighty Italy to write a fresh chapter in Irish football folklore.
They have obviously done extremely well to get here and they are obviously a good side, so we can't take anything for granted going into this game.
The half-day school holidays, the buntings, the blaring car horns and the street parties remain etched in Kelly's memory, and the prospect of bringing those days back provides added inspiration. "Just to think back at that, it makes you smile and think about how close we are to possibly being at a stage like that again where we could really give the country a boost, which would be a fantastic thing to do.
"As a kid, you always supported Ireland. I always supported teams in the Premier League, but Ireland was the team you watched and you cared about the most. Growing up playing football, your dream is to play for Ireland and play in a major tournament.
"We are very close to it now and if it comes through, it will be a dream come true for me and I am sure everybody else in the team. It would be a special thing. I know the way all of us feel about playing for our country and playing for Ireland, so it be a fantastic achievement."
The Republic of Ireland head into the tie in fine form and boasting an unbeaten run of nine games during which they have conceded only one goal, and that in their final qualifier, a 2-1 home victory over Armenia.
That gives them immense confidence as they prepare to face a side who lost 2-0 to Brian Kerr's Faroe Islands team during the campaign, although the Group B runners-up know Estonia will have ideas of their own. "They have obviously done extremely well to get here and they are obviously a good side, so we can't take anything for granted going into this game. But we are confident at the moment," Kelly said.
"The run of games and the form we have been in is excellent and we should go into this game with a bit of belief and feeling we can achieve this, and that's the general consensus around the camp. We are not being cocky, we are not going in expecting to win, we are not going in thinking the game is just going to be a walk-over. But we are confident that we can do it."
Kelly, who has figured in seven of those last nine games, is likely to get the nod to replace the injured John O'Shea on Friday night and is relishing the opportunity. "I have played a lot of the big games in this campaign, so I feel this has been the campaign where I have really been able to show myself and get to grips with it and make an impact. Hopefully I get the opportunity to play on Friday and if I can, I will just do what I have been doing."