Leeds star Kilkenny driven by Birmingham rejection

IN the kind of rich irony that football tends to specialise in, Leeds United midfielder Neil Kilkenny will this weekend try to scupper the promotion hopes of a club who he turned down just five months ago.

The 22-year-old was determined to get away from Birmingham City after a miserable stint in the Midlands and had a straight choice between the two clubs who will contest Sunday's League One play-off final.

Kilkenny, who had enjoyed a successful loan spell with Oldham Athletic in the first half of this season, listened intently to what both sides had to say and even visited Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium. In the end, however, the lure of Elland Road proved too much and the London-born Australian international is determined to justify that decision at Wembley on Sunday.

He said: "I had to make a decision in January and I picked Leeds. Doncaster are a fantastic club, but I couldn't turn down Leeds.

"It was very tight, but when I spoke to the manager at the time, Dennis Wise, he was very good to me and I knew Leeds was such a big club that it would turn around.

"I did have a look around Doncaster and (Rovers director of football) Mickey Walker and the rest of them were very good to me. I thank them for that.

"I knew both teams would be close to promotion, but the size of Leeds swung it and it is hard to turn down such a big club.

"I have played against Doncaster six times already this season (for Oldham and Leeds) so this is going to be the seventh. I have got two losses, two wins and two draws, so it is all even at the minute.

"This is the decider and hopefully we will win. I certainly know Doncaster inside out by now.

"But I feel I made the right decision regardless of Sunday's result. I had to make a decision at the time. It was a hard one, I picked Leeds and I don't regret that at all.

"I had played at Leeds for Oldham (on New Year's Day when the Latics won 3-1) and seeing the 33,000 crowd gave me a buzz. When you are a young lad you dream of playing in front of big crowds.

"I had the opportunity of doing that with Birmingham, but the manager there wasn't very nice to me.

"I had to get out of there. Luckily I did and I made the right decision."

Kilkenny, who qualifies for the Socceroos side via his move to Brisbane at an early age, started his career as a trainee at Arsenal before moving to St Andrews in January 2004.

Unable to break into the first team, he was loaned to Oldham the following November for the rest of the season and subsequently picked up the Players' Young Player of the Year award at Boundary Park.

Kilkenny returned to Birmingham but after playing 18 times in the

2005-06 Premier League campaign, he managed just eight substitute appearances in the Championship the following term.

He was then loaned back to Oldham at the start of this season by Steve Bruce and it is clear a sense of resentment burns deep within the midfielder over his treatment by the then-Blues manager.

He said: "He wasn't very good for me. He wouldn't play me, but he wouldn't let me go. It was a bit awkward. I used to train with the players, but when it came to Saturday I didn't play and he wouldn't let me go to another Championship club.

"All he said was he didn't want to pit me against the opposition, but he didn't want me playing against him either. That went on for a year.

"I had offers from other clubs and that is why I chose to go back to Oldham. Alex McLeish then came in (at St Andrews) and said I could go.

"It was a bit sour towards the end, but that is how football goes. I was really, really down and it was the lowest I have ever been. I begged him (Bruce) to let me go out on loan and luckily he let me go to Oldham."

On his 150,000 move to Leeds in January, Kilkenny added: "It came at the right time. But even then, there were still complications with (Blues chief executive) Karren Brady.

"She agreed a fee with Leeds and then all of a sudden there was a last-minute hitch.

"I turned up here and they wanted more money. It is not very good when you agree on things and then go back on them.

"I am sorry for the Birmingham players and the manager there now Alex McLeish was good to me. That is all I ask from a manager – that if they don't rate me, let me go.

"This time last year I was basically on my knees, very down. Luckily I got this opportunity to get promoted with Leeds.

"I will definitely be looking forward to when we play Birmingham if we get promoted.

"It is not about the players or the management team there now and I have nothing against them. It is more Karen Brady and it would be nice to prove her wrong."