Many of Reading’s best players over the years have been Republic of Ireland internationals, from Kevin Doyle and Shane Long to brothers Noel and Stephen Hunt. However, it seems that current Royal Liam Kelly will not be following in their footsteps, turning down the opportunity to play for The Boys In Green over the current international break.
The academy graduate was named in Martin O’Neill’s preliminary squad for the friendly against Turkey, but it was announced last week that he would not travel Antalya for the fixture. It was not the first time that Kelly had been included on the squad-list before dropping out, and indeed he looked all set to make his senior debut last year before staying in Berkshire to concentrate on Reading’s play-off push. On other occasions, injury has forced him to withdraw, but there’s an altogether different reason this time around.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has revealed that Kelly declined the offer of being in the squad as he still has a desire to play for England, the country of his birth, at international level. The 66-year-old said:
“I think wants to keep his options open at this minute. Obviously, he’s born in England and wants to keep those options open and that’s fine. I did actually leave a message or two and he got back to me by text.
“Despite the fact that I knew where he was born, I thought that was okay. I spoke to his agent some quite considerable time ago and I think that was always going to be okay I felt (but) I’ve always said here it’s the player’s choice; it’s exactly what it is and if he wants to think that England might come in, that’s entirely his decision.”
Born in Basingstoke, Kelly has played for both Ireland’s Under-19s and Under-21s in the past, but clearly feels that playing for England remains an achievable aim.
The question is, is it really that achievable? Sure, Kelly’s rise in the last 18 months has been impressive, and he has been one of Reading’s better players in a poor season, but he’s absolutely nowhere near a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad. He will need to be playing in the Premier League for that to happen, which he won’t be able to do with Reading until at least August 2019. Could he seek a move to the top flight this summer?