Kilbane the water carrier finally has place at top table

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The Independent Football

There is always another demand, that is the nature of this life of his, but then the best measure of Kevin Kilbane is found in his willingness. His career is a triumph of presence, of being wherever he is needed and then never shirking from trying to offer the best of himself. So at Hull's training ground on Friday, he met each new round of questioners with a disarming smile and generosity of spirit that said all you needed to know about the soul of this austere player.

He has shuffled around the game, with his shoulders hunched in that familiarly crumpled running style, making meaningful if unobtrusive impressions. There have always been more richly talented players, but fewer with such a profound capacity for diligence or selflessness. And perseverance can be rewarded, so Kilbane now carries distinction with the same lightness of touch as the other fundamental qualities that have so shaped his career.

Last Wednesday, he earned his 100th cap for the Republic of Ireland, in the 0-0 draw with Montenegro, and he is closing on Steve Staunton's record of 102 appearances. For Kilbane, at 32, the achievement seems recognition for his doggedness and he found greater meaning in not being thrust solely into the limelight, as Shay Given also won his 100th cap on the same night.

"It was a big night for me, but I'd rather have it like that [with somebody else]," he says. "I was pleased that Shay could share the attention with me. Shay's one of the best in the world and it was pleasing just for me to get there. I'm not really bothered if there's nothing said about me."

He was so abject on his international debut that he was substituted at half-time, but accomplishment has often derived from his bloody-mindedness. Ireland, too, must declare the kind of resolve that overcomes limitations, with a seeding process being introduced to the play-offs only latterly, so that they will now face one of France, Portugal, Russia or Greece.

"It isn't right, because it was supposed to be a straight draw, then all of a sudden it gets changed," Kilbane says. "We've got to take heart from our two games against Italy. We should have won both and we need to believe we can give anybody a good game."

Having established himself as a winger, Kilbane now plays left-back for Ireland and was a centre-back for Hull in their victory over Wigan two weeks ago. It was only the club's second League win in 2009 and they remain a team under siege, with the manager Phil Brown maintaining the kind of high profile that invites unforgiving scrutiny."The manager has become a bit of a sideshow," Kilbane says. "And for not really doing much. His words are taken to heart by the media, but he's a really good manager and we've let him down with our performances."

Quietly, but resolutely, Kilbane will be the first to reassert himself.

Fulham v Hull is live on ESPN from 7pm tomorrow, 8pm kick-off