Irish centurion won the first 11 of them here
KEVIN Kilbane will forever have a place in the Albion record books as our first £1million man, the Baggies handing over a cheque for that amount to Preston North End back in June 1997. Kilbane followed a well worn path from Deepdale, fellow winger Lee Ashcroft having made the same move back in 1990, albeit for a fraction of the money.
Kilbane was very much the promising youngster when he joined the Albion, the 20 year old having played just over 50 games for his hometown club. Confirmation that the Throstles had done a great piece of business wasn’t long in coming though, because just six games into his Albion career, Kilbane was making the move up from the Irish Under-21 squad and making his full international debut in a World Cup qualifier out in Reykjavik, a game the Irish won 4-2 to all but book their place in the play-offs for the competition.
Ireland ultimately missed out on a trip to the World Cup, but they did get to play one of the major nations, Argentina passing through Dublin on their way to France, giving Kilbane the opportunity to play his first international at Lansdowne Road in a 2-0 defeat.
It wasn’t until a year later that Kilbane really began to make his mark in Mick McCarthy’s team, the breakthrough coming when he impressed as a second half substitute for Damien Duff as Ireland defeated Macedonia, including Artim Sakiri, 1-0 in a European Championship qualifier.
With his pace and directness down the left flank, Killer was an Albion regular by then, completing his second full season with the Baggies in Denis Smith’s team that had plenty of attacking options in Kilbane, Lee Hughes, Richard Sneekes and Enzo Maresca, though we might draw a veil over some of our defensive play from that era.
By the dawn on the new season, Brian Little was in charge and Kilbane was the centre-piece of the Albion side, scoring freely in the early part of the campaign, and cementing his place in the Irish team as they headed for another play-off final and another play-off disappointment, being defeated by Turkey on the away goals rule over two tempestuous games in mid-November.
Things didn’t calm down any for Killer because he was quickly the subject of feverish transfer speculation which culminated in him being pulled out of Albion’s squad as they travelled to Grimsby for a First Division game on Tuesday 14th December.
Four days and £2.2million later, Kilbane was making his debut in the Sunderland side that beat Southampton 2-0, a huge but necessary loss as the club struggled to make financial ends meet and, quite simply, had to bring in some cash to prevent meltdown.
With 16 goals in 122 games, Kevin became a bit of a cult hero at The Hawthorns, as his own bit of graffiti down Halfords Lane testified for several years. From here, he went on to become a fixture in the Irish squad ultimately racked up over 100 caps for his country. Some achievement for some player.