Stephen Kelly has signed a new two-year contract extension with Fulham which will keep him at Craven Cottage until summer 2014.
The full-back, who firmly established himself as Martin Jol’s first choice right back last season making 33 appearances for the Whites, signed his new deal after returning to Motspur Park following his participation in Euro 2012 with the Republic of Ireland. The 28 year-old hopes he can take his fine form into the new season, which starts with a home game against Norwich City on August 18.
I’m delighted that it’s sorted now and I can hopefully continue on from last year. It was a really good end to the season with the way we finished off, the way we were playing and I just hope we can continue on with that again.
Last season was fantastic for me, playing pretty much every game from Christmas onwards and to cement myself as the number one right-back was great and hopefully I can continue on with that this season. To sign another contract here is fantastic. I’m delighted to be staying at the club and I just want to carry on with the progression I’ve made over the last year or so.
The European Championships might have become more interesting from a Fulham perspective when Roy Hodgson’s appointment into the England hot seat just before the finals. The West Brom manager quickly added his trusted lieutenant and Craven Cottage stalwart Ray Lewington to his backroom staff, but a couple more regulars at Motspur Park have been pretty excited about events in the Ukraine and Poland since last autumn. Much of the commentary surrounding the Republic of Ireland’s chances in the finals has been couched the kind of lazy stereotypes of journeyman keen to make up the numbers (a la 1988 and 1994) but that’s to studiously ignore the quiet progress that they have made since Giovanni Trapattoni arrived as national team boss in 2008.
Widely considered the most successful Italian coach going there’s plenty of his compatriots who would like to see the 73 year-old reprise his role in charge of the Azzuri, where’s definitely some unfinished business. Trapattoni’s Italian side were beaten on penalties by South Korea in 2002 in a game where they controversially had a goal disallowed and saw Francesco Totti controversially sent off. In the following European Championships, the Italians were well below bar but didn’t lose a game and were only eliminated when Sweden and Denmark drew their final game – and both Scandinavian nations progressed. To this day, Trapattoni feels he has something to prove, despite a managerial career that saw him win ten league titles in four different countries and all three major European club competitions.
Ireland’s progression to these finals also feels like payback given the way Thierry Henry used his hand to settle their World Cup play-off tie in Paris three years ago. That might have been the end of the road for a number of senior players, but wily old Trapattoni kept his group together and convinced his key men that they could make Euro 2012. That they did, finishing second to Russia, who have already demonstrated their quality with that blistering opening night dismantling of the Czech Republic. Richard Dunne, the captain and commanding centre-half, might have had to endure barbs about his propensity to put through his own net during a difficult season at Villa Park, but his performance in a backs-to-the-wall goalless draw against the Russians was nothing short of flawless.
After a play-off success against Estonia, set up by a pulsating away win in the first leg, the relief at reaching these finals was tangible. Many see the Irish as the whipping boys in a group that rivals the official ‘Group of death’ for it’s toughness. Tonight’s opener against the talented Croatians will be pivotal, but the task doesn’t get any easier as Italy and Spain lie in wait. Trapattoni insists his side are ready and confident, claiming he wouldn’t have even come to the finals had he not believed his squad contained enough quality to make the last eight. So sure of his plans, Il Trap named his starting eleven more than a week ago and has repeated it obligingly at every press conference since.
The eleven have amassed nearly 700 international caps between them and contains top flight regulars in Shay Given, John O’Shea, Dunne, Glenn Whelan, Kevin Doyle and, of course, Damien Duff. The seemingly ageless winger, with an uncanny ability to manufacture half a yard when surrounded by a phalanx of opposition defenders, has benefited from Trapattoni’s confidence, even when he was struggling to get a game early in Martin Jol’s tenure at the Cottage. The 33 year-old should make his hundredth appearance for his country against the Italians in Poznan next Monday and is desperate to make up for lost time at a major championship, having had to wait more than a decade to build on his terrific campaign in Japan and South Korea at the 2002 World Cup:
It means more to me now than it did 10 years ago. A few of us are in our 30s now and I suppose we are on the home straight, so to speak. You never know, this could be our last tournament, so you have to savour it.
It’s a major tournament so you can’t help but get excited about it. It has been a long wait since 2002 for everybody, not just the players but the fans as well.
Trapattoni’s decision to play Stephen Ward, recently relegated with Wolves at right back, ahead of Stephen Kelly, who has made that berth his own at Fulham since the untimely injury to Zdenek Grygera in early autumn means the former Tottenham and Birmingham City full-back will start his first finals on the bench. But Kelly’s versatility – he operated at left back for a large part of the Whites’ memorable run to the Europa League final in 2010 and has filled in at centre back for his country – has kept him in Trapattoni’s plans and is a fitting reward for a fine campaign that saw him make 33 first-team appearances and establish himself as a regular for the first time since his arrival at the club in 2009.
The Irish believe that could cause a surprise. This side are certainly better than the mere names on paper might suggest and Trapattoni has been careful to avoid the mistakes that hastened the departure of his compatriot and good friend Fabio Capello in England. His side go into this evening’s clash with Croatia on the back of an impressive fourteen match unbeaten run and they’ve not lost a match on the European mainland in five years. They’ll combine organisation and industry with the guile of Robbie Keane, power of Kevin Doyle and the dangerous running of James McClean, likely to be used off the bench after flourishing under Martin O’Neill at Sunderland. You’d be very foolish to count them out.
As the 2011/2012 season has drawn to a close for our beloved Fulham Football Club, here are the inaugural Hammyend End of Season Awards, known simply as The “Hammy’s”.
Signing of the season
There are several nominees for signing of the season; both Pavel Pogrebnyak and Mahammadou Diarra have excelled at times since their January (and February) arrivals. Pogrebnyak seamlessly replacing former England striker Bobby Zamora, and Diarra, who’s vast experience and quality has begun to really shine in central midfield alongside Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembele. For me though, the signing of the season is John Arne Riise, who joined from AS Roma last summer. Despite not scoring, the Norwegian has cemented the left back role as his own, whilst his marauding touchline runs have freed Clint Dempsey to have the run of the park without excessive concern for his flank.
Goal of the season
The first nominee is Pavel Pogrebnyak’s delightful rounding of Paddy Kenny against QPR from Moussa Dembele’s showboat backheeled through ball. Bryan Ruiz only scored two goals in his first season for Fulham, but they were both absolute peaches. The chip against Everton was good enough to have come out of Rory McIlroy’s golf bag, while the “scoop” goal against Bolton was technically sublime. Not being able to pick between the two Ruiz goals, my goal of the season is Clint Dempsey’s team goal, which crowned the 5-0 thrashing of Wolves. Capping a mesmeric twenty something pass move that any team would have been proud of, Clint smashed in a neat 16 yard finish following a one two with Mahammadou Diarra.
Bryan celebrates his goal against Everton
Match of the season
Was it winning in Liverpool for the first time ever? How about the 1-0 win away at Mark Hughes’ QPR? The 2-1 last minute win over Arsenal? No, the game of the season was undoubtedly the 6-0 demolition of Queens Park Rangers back in September. Welcome to the Premier League.
The Abdeslam Ouaddou Award for the Most Unpronounceable Name
Despite facing teams from the Faroe Islands, Ukraine, Croatia and Poland in our Europa League run, a few of the new faces at Craven Cottage have proved tricky for Diddy Hamilton and a fair few others to pronounce. From Pajtim (Pie-Tim) Kasami and Marcel Gecov (Getz-of) to Alex Kacaniklic (Catch-a-nik-lich) and Pavel Pogrebnyak (Pog-reb-knee-ak), it appears Martin Jol is intent on making commentators lives difficult. Pogrebnyak wins, purely for his ability to be mispronounced in the national spotlight.
The HammyEnd.com Award for best Fulham Fan Media
The past season has seen an upsurge in the number of intelligent, interesting and dedicated Fulham fan-based media. The increasing popularity of twitter has undoubtedly fueled this growth and enabled those that pre-existed to gain a wider reach. There is no specific winner here, but I’d like personally thank Dan Crawford, devoted editor of HammyEnd for encouraging contributions from an ever burgeoning range of writers. Other sites, like the excellent Craven Cottage Newsround and Fulham’s Finest have continued their stellar work. While finally, (and I may be biased here) Russ Goldman’s wonderful CottageTalk, a weekly online radio show / podcast, brings Fulham discussion to a wider audience, along with interviews with the likes of Aaron Hughes and Journalists such as the Press Association’s Simon Peach. If, like me, you have an insatiable desire for all things Fulham, now is very much a golden age.
The @Hammyend Award for Our Favourite Fulham Tweeter
The last season has seen an explosion in the popularity of Twitter as social media of choice for Fulham Football Club. We’ve had the immensely popular #fridayfulhamchallenge courtesy of the club itself including the naming of the @fulhamchickens. By my latest count, there are twelve first teamers currently active on twitter along with several wives. My nominees for Tweeter of the year are @sarahbrookes1, the ever informative and Rafa Nadal obsessed Fulham press officer, @Clint_Dempsey – #thatswhatsup, the irrepressible @WhiteNoise1879 and @joannataylormum, the popular other half to our beloved captain, Danny Murphy. Her constant willingness to interact positively with us fans, makes Joanna Murphy, my Fulham Tweeter of the Season.
Best Opposing Fans at Craven Cottage
Manchester United and Liverpool always bring loud, original and surprisingly polite away fans to Craven Cottage and this season was no different. Wigan deserve vast amounts of credit for staying loud all game, in particular the 15 minutes they sung “I’m a believer”, but for me, the loudest fans I have heard in some time, were those from Wisla Krakow. It felt as though every Polish person in London had descended on Fulham. I actually arrived at the game twenty minutes late and came through the Putney End turnstiles at the precise moment Andy Johnson opened the scoring, but such was the fervency of the Krakow support, I couldn’t tell who’d scored.
Best Opposing Player
This is a tough one to answer, and you’d think the drubbings at the hands of Manchester United and Swansea would give me the result. Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney among others picked us apart when the reigning champions came to town, while the midfield three of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Joe Allen and Leon Brittan played us off the park when we lost the Welsh outfit. However, it was Sergio Aguero, in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City who stood out for me. New to the English game, Aguero played sumblimely, just as he did that fateful evening in Hamburg two years ago.
The Gervasio Nunez Award For Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Refereeing decisions have come under the spotlight this past season, and we’ve suffered our fair share of misdemeanors. Nothing stands out for me, like the outrageous cheating displayed by Argentinean street urchin Gervasio Nunez, when, in Krakow, he got Moussa Dembele sent off for gently pushing his shoulder by diving around as if an anti aircraft gun had zeroed in on his nose. What’s more, in the reverse fixture he continued his antics. One particularly robust Dickson Etuhu challenge later and everyone was better off.
Kerim Frei tormenting Chelsea
Rookie of the Year
What a year for young talent at Craven Cottage. The investment in the Motspur Park academy is beginning to bear its fruits, and in Martin Jol, we finally have a manager who’s willing to give the youngsters a prolonged chance. All under 21, Neil Etheridge, Marcello Trotta, Pajtim Kasami, Matthew Briggs, Tom Donegan, Lauri Dalle Valle and Alex Kacaniklic have all seen first team action this season, with all but Briggs making their debuts. Rookie of the year honours have to go to Kerim Frei. The pintsized Swiss winger is as exciting a prospect as there is in the entire Premier League. From his debut against NSI Runavik, to his three Man of the Match appearances against Chelsea, Kerim has been a beacon of positive football whilst running at defenders along the left wing. He’s won two penalties, at Swansea and Chelsea, scored against Odense and enduced Johan Djourou into getting himself sent off. It may be a busy summer ahead for Kerim, who is tipped to make the 18-man Switzerland Olympic Squad.
Achievement of the Season
Congratulations to the Fulham Under-18s, who last Saturday became the Premier Academy League Champions. The final, played at Craven Cottage, saw the youngsters deservedly beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0. Manager Kit Symons has done a tremendous job, as has academy director Huw Jennings and all the backroom staff. We have now got to the final two years in a row, and can now call ourselves champions. A truly outstanding achievement that everyone involved with the club can be proud of.
Most Improved Player
Stephen Kelly, where have you been all my life? Originally fourth choice right back at the start of the season, injury to Zdenek Grygera, Chris Barid’s absence and Aaron Hughes’ preference for centre half eventually allowed Kelly the opportunity to grow into a very solid performer. Still not an attacking force, Kelly has matured into a remarkably consistent performer defensively, whilst improving offensively. He made himself first choice at right back and has been offered a new contract, albeit with the possibility of a new right back arriving and the return to fitness of Grygera.
Quote of the season
Something might be said for the translation when you hear your new centre forward proclaiming he can be “powerful and agile, like a beast”. However, this is exactly what our Ivan Drago lookalike, Pavel Porgebnyak, said to Russian Sports News Agency SovSport whilst awaiting his UK visa in Paris. A series of swashbuckling performances, including five goals from his first five shots on target, led us to soon forget about the sulky striker sent to Loftus Road on Transfer Deadline Day.
Who needs Zamora? When we've got The Pog.
Chant of the season
There was a defining moment of our season. January 31st saw Bobby Zamora, he of moody temper tantrums throughout the autumn, leave Fulham for pastures new, and Russian International, Pavel Pogrebnyak, join the Whites from VFB Stuttgart. Perfect then that on The Pog’s third appearance, he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over relegation candidates QPR at Loftus Road. Quite right that chant of the season is “Who needs Zamora, When We’ve Got The Pog”.
Norway Captain, defensive rock, Viking, ironman…all apt and factual descriptions of Brede Hangeland. Not only did our behemoth of a centre back play every minute of every league game, he played in every other game bar one for the entire 54 match season. What’s more, his performances rarely wavered, despite several changes to his centre back partner.
Player of the season
There are really only two genuine candidates for player of the season, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey. Especially since his move to central midfield on Boxing Day, Dembele has been especially superb. Albeit without goals (only two for the season), Moussa has been the creative spark behind our upturn in form over the second half of the season. His wonderful assist for Pavel Pogrebnyak’s goal at QPR is perhaps the standout moment, but his constant dribbling, successful passing and completed tackles have led Dembele to being well on his way to becoming an elite Premier League midfielder.
Clint Dempsey - Player of The Season
Player of the season though, should be awarded for play over the whole season. While Dembele was good throughout the first half, there is one man who has been truly outstanding across the entire term. Clint Dempsey this year passed Brian McBride to become Fulham’s all time leading Premier League goalscorer, and in doing so, passed 50 goals for Fulham and later 50 goals in the Premier League, all for FFC. Ending the year with 23 goals, 17 in the league, Clint finished in a remarkable fourth place in the Football Writers Player of the Year, and to be honest, was unlucky not to finish third ahead of Paul Scholes. It’s not just his goals that have cemented this award, but his play in general. Fearless and spirited, Clint can rarely be accused of lethargy, which for a man who’s barely had a summer off since his move to Craven Cottage five and a half years ago, is somewhat remarkable. He’s our longest serving player, and regardless of his employment tenure next season, Clint Dempsey is the rightful Fulham Player of the Season.
Fulham pair Stephen Kelly and Damien Duff have been named in the Republic of Ireland squad for this summer’s European Championship finals in Ukraine and Poland.
The call-ups by Giovanni Trapattoni, although not entirely unexpected, are a fitting reward for the duo’s energetic end to the domestic campaign. Kelly and Duff have dovetailed down the Fulham successfully since the former Newcastle winger made his return to the starting line-up in March. Kelly has had a terrific season, usurping Chris Baird as Jol’s first choice at right back after the cruciate injury suffered by Zdenek Grygera, and only last week was offered a new contract in recognition of his outstanding performances.
Kelly could well be a key member of the Irish defence at the tournament, where the Irish are drawn against Croatia, Spain and Trapattoni’s native Italy in Group C. Duff might face combination from his opposite number at Craven Cottage yesterday afternoon – the Sunderland teenager winger James McClean, who has been in sensational form since being handed an opportunity to impress new Stadium of Light boss Martin O’Neill.
The big story from today’s announcement is that the omission of Wigan midfielder James McCarthy, who asked to be left out as his father is currently battling cancer.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND SQUAD – GOALKEEPERS: Shay Given (Aston Villa), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), David Forde (Millwall).
DEFENDERS: John O’Shea (Sunderland), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Darren O’Dea (Celtic), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Kevin Foley (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
MIDFIELDERS: Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (West Bromwich Albion), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moskva), Darron Gibson (Everton), Keith Fahey (Birmingham City), Damien Duff (Fulham), Stephen Hunt (Wolverhampton Wanderers), James McClean (Sunderland).
STRIKERS: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Simon Cox (West Bromwich Albion).