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EUROMAR-2008

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Just a few years before that, Kelly had been playing in what was then the Fourth Division, for Preston, before gaining a move to United in 1992.

"We had a terrific squad, loads of experience and loads of major honours in it, but as a small nation there still wasn't a lot expected of us.

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"I was still a relatively young player, and of course it would have been nice to have been involved in some of the games or even one, but that's football.

The man was, in fact, Sheffield Wednesday's John Sheridan, who on July 4, 1994 in the USA, ran out for the Republic of Ireland in what was to be their final game in the competition, losing 2 0 to a Dennis Bergkamp inspired Holland in the round of 16.

Having been a part of the squad and stayed on the bench throughout, it would be easy to think of what might have been, but Kelly doesn't look at it that way.

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With cameras on top of the action off the pitch, a global audience of millions were greeted with a Scouse volley of four letter words, aimed at the official who wouldn't let him on.

Sheridan almost wrote himself into Irish folklore when he thundered a vicious strike off the crossbar with 15 minutes remaining, but that mattered little in the end as the party kicked off in New Jersey.

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"It was an incredible experience," he said. "Football has obviously always been a global game, but I felt that it was really just starting to get huge at that time.

"I've heard it said that the England players were losing 2 3kgs in the training, well Packie and I were losing at least 5 7 every session.

"I sometimes wonder how well we would have done had we been equipped the same way as players are these days."

"For me personally, yes I did think I would find it hard to get playing because 'Packie' (Bonner) was established as first choice, but to be there was amazing.

"We didn't have nutritionists in those days, there were no shakes or anything like that, just water at the end.

"It was in America and they were really going for it and that was the start of what they Air Presto Ultra have built now in the MLS.

to get used to the heat and wouldn't let us drink during training.

´╗┐From Sheffield to the biggest stage of all

had to laugh though when I saw the England players wearing these special vests to make them warmer while they were in Portugal because it wasn't as hot as what they will experience.

"The heat then is something that will be similar to what England will be up against," he said.

"I was about 10ft from it," recalls Kelly. "We had never seen 'Aldo' like that before. He was always the one cracking jokes and having a laugh and here he was losing it on the touchline and in front of the cameras. It was incredible really.

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The United goalkeeper was understudy to legendary stopper Pat Bonner in the tournament but although he didn't play, the then 25 year old was in awe of what was going on around him.

While the Irish will rightly remember USA '94 for Houghton's exquisite goal, for many others, the sight of John Aldridge and Jack Charlton literally losing their cool on the touchline with a Fifa official as the striker was delayed comimg off the bench in the game against Mexico by a bumbling piece of Fifa beaureucracy, is what stands out.

On June 18 in the Giants Stadium, the Republic registered one of the all time greatest shocks of the World Cup, when Ray Houghton's stunning goal secured a famous 1 0 win over Italy, one of the favourites for the competition and indeed, the team that would go on to the final, only to lose to Brazil on penalties.

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"Then of course we went and beat Italy, which was phenomenal for us because everyone expected them to beat us easily."

"We had our preparation in Orlando to get used to the heat and it was almost unbearable.

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"Jack had to pick a team and all I could do was make sure Packie was ready for each game. There was no goalkeeper coach at the time so we worked each other."

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"When we on our build up, Jack (Charlton) Nike Air Presto Br Black/White

The Owls midfielder wasn't the only Sheffield representative though, as sitting on the bench for the Irish that day and for all of their games in USA 94 was Alan Kelly.

Nevertheless, though Kelly would have a watching brief for the tournament, it still stands as one of the highlights of his career.

Before long he had won his first international cap and began vying for the number one jersey. That would prove a difficult task, trying to dislodge the well established Celtic keeper Bonner, a hero of the Republic's maiden World Cup campaign in Italia 90.

Unfortunately you have to go back 20 years to find the answer, with the Steel City's two sides seldom represented on the global stage these days.

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Kelly has watched with interest how England's players have been preparing for the conditions they will face when in Brazil and 20 years on, it's a world away from how the Irish boys got ready.

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