World Cup snub set to ignite Kilkenny's ambitions

WHEN Leeds United pulled off the shock of last season's FA Cup by knocking out Manchester United, Neil Kilkenny knew exactly what would cap the perfect day.

Ryan Giggs was a player the 24-year-old had always admired, so the prospect of claiming the Welsh international's shirt sent him on a short stroll towards the home dressing room.

An arm across the door stopped Kilkenny, the Old Trafford kit man pointing out that, with Sir Alex Ferguson in a less than jovial mood, it may not be in his interests to go any further.

The midfielder wisely took the hint, but if Leeds's victory had caused one door to be slammed in his face then it seemed another – and a potential trip to the World Cup – had been opened by Jermaine Beckford's winner for the League One club.

Australia, who Kilkenny had last featured for two years previously against Argentina in the Olympics, were quickly on the telephone to suggest a possible place in the 23-man squad for South Africa was still up for grabs.

Alas, it was not to be and Kilkenny had to make do with watching Australia's three group games on television with his girlfriend and parents.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today's televised meeting with Derby County at Elland Road, the Enfield-born but Brisbane-raised midfielder said: "It was very disappointing not to be given a chance.

"The manager (Pim Verbeek) never saw me train, and I think he only ever saw me play for 20 minutes once.

"I had gone to Australia to train for the Olympics (in 2008) but after that I never heard anything until early this year.

"They came to see me after the Manchester United game but there had been 20 games before that in the season and no contact.

"I appreciate I am on the other side of the world and at the time I was in League One. But I was at the biggest team in League One and we were flying, so surely you would think someone would come to a game or ask for a few DVDs.

"After making contact, they drifted away again and I never heard anything else even though there were still six months until the World Cup. I ended up watching the games on holiday."

Kilkenny has, however, not given up on adding to his two caps – especially as Dutch-born Verbeek has since parted company with the Socceroos.

The Leeds midfielder added: "It is a new start. Most of the backroom staff went as well so, hopefully, they can now take a fresh look at me.

"Leeds being in the Championship – and being the biggest club in the division – may help as well because the games are shown in Australia a lot more than is the case with League One."

If Kilkenny is to realise his international ambitions, clearly much rests on his form in a United shirt.

In that respect, the portents are good with the 24-year-old having become one of the key figures at Elland Road over the past 18 months thanks to his renowned passing skills bringing polish and panache to the midfield.

Kilkenny, signed by Dennis Wise for 150,000 in January, 2008, said: "The manager has helped the fans probably see the real me. I was unfortunate that Dennis left just a couple of weeks after signing me.

"Gary McAllister then came in and played me on the right side of midfield, which is not my best position. But he kept playing me there for some reason.

"I still feel I did okay and we got to the play-off final but I didn't think Leeds were getting the best out of me.

"Simon came in (at Christmas, 2008), did not play me for his first nine games – and of those we lost four and drew one. But I then got in the team and we only lost two in 25.

"He has given me the chance to play in my preferred position, where I can get us passing the ball and try to dictate the game.

"I know I don't do certain things that other players do. But that is what a team is about, different players bringing different things to the team.

"Michael Doyle was someone I got on really well with on the pitch last season, he sort of did the dog's work and let me play. It worked as a partnership."

What also worked well last season was the understanding between Kilkenny and Jermaine Beckford, the striker being the beneficiary of countless slide-rule passes from midfield that allowed him to leave defenders trailing courtesy of his considerable pace.

Beckford's summer free transfer to Everton means United's style of play will have to be adapted this term, hence Grayson employing a 4-3-2-1 formation last weekend in the 3-1 friendly win over Wolves.

Kilkenny, whose own contract runs out in the summer, said: "It is true to say we will have to do things a bit differently without Jermaine. I was disappointed to see him go.

"I thought the club made a massive mistake in allowing him to run down his contract. He is a 4-5m striker who left on a free transfer."

As for United's prospects this term after three years in League One, Kilkenny added: "Hopefully, we will be in and amongst it. A lot of teams could be challenging for promotion but we have quite a few players who suit playing at a higher level.

"I feel we are a better team against the good sides, we showed that last season against the likes of Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool.

"We have to strive for promotion. We showed what we are capable of by beating Wolves. We have to take that form into the league.

"If we can do that, I see no reason why we can't get into the play-offs."

LEEDS UNITED are hoping to sign Arsenal forward Jay Simpson amid suggestions from the player's agent two bids have been accepted.

The club have watched the 21-year-old, who netted 12 goals when on loan at QPR last season, several times but are facing competition from Hull City, Crystal Palace and Rangers.

Leeds Utd v Derby County

Team news: Billy Paynter's debut is expected to be delayed by a shin injury, while Max Gradel and David Somma are suspended. Robert Snodgrass is also out, along with Patrick Kisnorbo and Ben Parker.

Last six games: Leeds United WWLWLW, Derby County WLDDLW.

Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire).

Last time: Leeds United 0, Derby County 1, Dec 9, 2006, Championship.

SkyBet odds: Leeds to win evens; Derby to win 3/1; Draw 9/4.