Former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane was "desperate" to play for Celtic

By Euan Davidson

June 8, 2021

Former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane was desperate to play for Celtic.

Those are his words, not ours. The former Everton, Preston North End and Sunderland midfielder was a mainstay for the Boys in Green. He also enjoyed a long and successful career in English football. Kilbane, who was born in Preston to Irish parents, represented Ireland 110 times, but that wasn’t his only career ambition.

Talking to the excellent Football CFB podcast, Kilbane didn’t need too much provocation to tell podcaster Callum McFadden about his Hoops dreams.

Kilbane said [Football CFB]:

“The first time I could’ve gone to Celtic was, I was actually at Everton. I initially went into Everton on a year’s contract… there was an option for Everton to give me another year. So I finished the year’s contract, and Celtic thought I was on a free.

“One of the Celtic hierarchy, someone that was highly placed at Celtic, called me in after Jackie McNamara’s testimonial. We were playing for Ireland against Celtic, up at Celtic Park. I was called into the Celtic boardroom after that game, to tell me I was number 1 priority for the new manager.

“[They said] Martin O’Neill had just resigned from the job, and the new manager coming [had] got three players that he wants to sign, and you’re absolutely one of those players. And we want to take you now.

“That week before I went up to play that game, with Everton, I’d agreed a new contract but I hadn’t signed it. So I said to the representative at Celtic, “I’ve agreed a contract. David Moyes has been a huge part of my life, I’ve agreed, and I want to honour that.”

Kilbane’s Uncle got his wish, in a way / (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“I was kind of dying inside”; Ireland international Kevin Kilbane on his Celtic dilemma

“In me, I was kind of dying inside, because my Uncle still runs the Celtic Supporters’ Club from Preston. When he moved from Ireland to England, he set up the Celtic Supporters’ branch for Lancashire and the North-West of England. And the only thing he always said to me was “I want to see Kilbane’s name on the back of a Celtic shirt.”

“My heartstrings were being pulled, I have to say… [Moyes] knew as well, he knew me from a kid. He knew exactly how I felt about playing for Celtic. But my word was my bond, that was how I felt.”

“Then, when Neil Lennon was manager in his first spell at Celtic, I was at Hull at the time. I could’ve gone in January, it was a loan move. Well, I say “could’ve gone”, I was actually trying to push it through.

“I was desperate to make the deal happen.

“There was a couple of things why it couldn’t be done, I think Hull wanted a fee, and Celtic weren’t prepared to pay. And I was desperately trying to push it through, and it just never happened.

“Looking back, as I’ve said before, the two things I wanted to do in my career as a kid… was play for Ireland and play for Celtic. That was maybe the dream for me to play for Celtic at some stage, it just never happened for me.”

Kilbane scoring for Ireland in 2011 / (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Kevin Kilbane: didn’t sign for Celtic, but had an excellent career

Certainly, it would’ve been nice if plenty of his Ireland colleagues had played for Celtic. Admittedly, both Keanes ended up wearing the Hoops at different times. But the likes of Damien Duff, Ian Harte and Steve Finnan would’ve surely been more than welcome, from the squad that took the Republic Ireland to the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup.

There are even more links to Celtic from Kilbane’s time in the Ireland squad. Shay Given came through the youth ranks, while of course, Duff became a coach at Paradise under Neil Lennon.

While Kilbane never got his move, it’d be unfair to say he should have any regrets from his playing career. The FAI’s Player of the Year in 2004 could’ve definitely added to Gordon Strachan’s squad, but it’s hard to know where he would’ve fit best, or who he might’ve replaced.

Now a pundit for the BBC and Virgin Media in Ireland, the likeable Lancashire lad is a friendly presence on TV and on radio.

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