By Ronan Murphy
After 612 career club games and 110 international appearances, Kevin Kilbane has called time on an impressive playing career. A consummate professional, Kilbane was an integral part of the Republic of Ireland setup under Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr, Steve Staunton and Giovanni Trapattoni, while his club career saw him play for nine different teams, amassing over 300 Premier League appearances and £7 million in transfer fees.
During the early part of this century, one thing was always certain about the Irish football team. Kevin Kilbane would line out in a competitive game. For 66 competitive matches from 1999 to 2011, the man affectionately known as "Killer" or "Zinedine Kilbane" was ever-present, and probably would have broken Billy Wright's international record of 70 games if not for the back injury he suffered during Euro 2012 qualification.
The man for all occasions | Kevin Kilbane retires after a long and distinguished international career
Born in Preston, Kilbane came up through the ranks of local club Preston North End, making his debut as an 18-year-old in 1995. The wideman came to the attention of the FAI while at Deepdale and received a call-up to Ireland's under-21 squad the following year. Both of Kilbane's parents hail from Ireland, and an apocryphal story often does the rounds about how the young Kilbane turned up to a training camp with England's underage setup wearing an Irish shirt.
Following a £1.25m move to West Bromwich Albion in 1997, Kilbane received his first senior call-up, with Mick McCarthy fast-tracking the 20-year-old into the senior squad. "He is a great crosser of the ball who will give us additional options out wide and I'm delighted to have him," McCarthy told the Irish Times at the time of his first call-up. "We cannot have enough quality players."
|Caps, Goals: 110, 8
Clubs: Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Everton, Wigan, Hull City, Huddersfield (loan), Derby County (loan), Coventry
Kilbane was popular wherever he went. Not just with Irish fans, but his hard-working attitude won fans at almost all of the stops on his club career. After 106 league appearances with WBA, who had broken their transfer record to sign him, Peter Reid also opened his chequebook to bring him to Sunderland, breaking another record with the £2.5m fee.
A dismal run saw some Sunderland fans castigate Kilbane, blaming him for their failures in the league and their relegation in 2003. After 124 games for the Black Cats, Kilbane was forced to move on, joining Everton on deadline day. For most of his career Kilbane had been deployed as a left-winger, with his direct play causing trouble for opposition defenders. However, David Moyes used his versatility to play him in other positions, including the left-back slot which he would eventually make his own in an Ireland shirt.
Wigan made a £2m bid for him in 2006, and he won the Fans' Player of the Year award in his second season at the Latics. A permanent move to Hull City followed, and loans to Huddersfield Town and Derby County expanded his resumé. Famously, he appeared on the bench for Huddersfield in a crucial League One game the day after lining out for the Boys in Green.
Kilbane ended his career as captain of Coventry City, and perhaps would have featured much more were it not for the back injury which also brought an end to his international career. In fact, since Kilbane left the Irish set-up, left-back has been a problem area, with Stephen Ward under-performing, and Marc Wilson being untried and untested under the pragmatic Trapattoni.
In fact, many Irish fans will admit that Ireland haven't been the same commodity since Kilbane's forced international retirement, and most will remember him with fond memories. Kilbane has both UEFA A and B coaching licences, and was linked with the manager's post at Sligo Rovers last year, so a future in the dugout looks a certainty for one of Ireland's greatest professionals.