Despite being born in Preston, there was never any doubt for Kevin Kilbane about which country he wanted to represent as a footballer.
Kilbane came through the ranks at PNE, making his debut for his hometown club in 1995, and after impressing as a youngster, the midfielder turned down a call from England with his sights firmly set on pulling on the green shirt for Republic of Ireland.
The 41-year-old is one of many links between PNE and the Republic of Ireland over many years, and the is delighted to see the strong link continuing with a number of PNE players representing Ireland in Martin O'Neil's latest squad.
Speaking to the PNE Podcast during the international break, Kilbane said: "I am delighted with one or two of the signings that have gone in over the past few years, first of all at the start of it you’re looking at Alan Browne and then the two Dundalk lads in Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan going in.
"Now most recently you’re looking at Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor going in there. Then you’re looking at Eoin Doyle who has been connected in the last few years, so we’ve always has a connection.
"As a boy growing up Alan Kelly was one of my heroes, simply because I could relate to Alan Kelly. Alan Kelly’s dad was this huge figure, a record appearance holder at Preston North End and he was maybe someone I looked up to because I knew he had the same sort of background to me, wanting to play for Ireland himself because he felt Irish, albeit he was from Preston himself.
"So that was something very special to me. We’re got a very long history with Ireland and Irish players that have played for the club and it’s nice now that we have got so many Irish voices and Irish faces playing for Ireland.
"It makes it even sweeter that we’re playing at a level that can get them into a senior international set up as it is and I’m very proud of Ireland's long history with Preston North End."
The former Sunderland and Everton man now covers football in a media capacity, and is pleased to see a number of players make the transition from the League of Ireland in to English football.
On that issue, Kevin continued: "Most definitely, I’ve watch a lot of League of Ireland football, I spend the majority of my time over in Dublin so I will be keeping an eye on a lot of League of Ireland players and there is a lot of quality here and what we are finding now is what we are seeing across the board in English football, it is very very difficult for youngsters to try and make the grade into professional football because of the competition coming from worldwide now.
"I think over here now at the League of Ireland level, a lot of those players, if they are going over to England first and foremost when they’re not quite able to make it, they’re able to come back and they’re getting competitive football or they’re not going over when they are 15 or 16 when traditionally that would have been the case. They’re staying in Ireland, they’re actually playing serious competitive football, men’s football, I think that is helping their development and I think it is actually bringing them on quicker.
"So I think we need to look at the nucleus of the Republic of Ireland squad over the past ten years, the majority of the starting Xl have all played League of Ireland. Looking at Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ward, all of these players have been playing regular international football now and all those players that have been playing have all got a background from the League of Ireland.
"The quality is still there, the quality is probably the best it has ever been, I just think one or two of the English clubs that can give these boys a chance to come over and progress.
"I think Preston North End are probably the torch bearers for that because the players that they have introduced have all gone on to actually start, so maybe even from a financial point of view, you look at these boys who are worth a lot more than what clubs pay for them.
"Of course, financially it makes sense, but I think purely for these boys development from a developmental side they’re getting game time now and they will always enhance Preston. I think, and I’m hopeful, that a few more will be able to make the breakthrough in the future.
One player who has particularly stood out for Kilbane, even before making the switch to England, is PNE midfielder Alan Browne. Kevin admits wanting to work with the Irishman in the past and is not surprised by his development at North End.
"I’ve got a long history with Alan. I was coaching up at Hull City when Alan was about 15 or 16 and I was alerted and made aware of Alan in 2011, and he instantly made an impression up at Hull City and I actually wanted to sign him.
"But the way it was working at the time at Hull City, he was playing for Ringmahon Rangers, they didn’t want much upfront but a lot of knock-ons would have come back other if he played first team football.
"To cut a long story short, he didn’t sign and then a year or two after that he ended up going to Cork City, first and foremost on the bench, and the over to Preston.
"I’ve monitored Alan for a long time now and I’ve known the qualities he had from such a young age, from when he was at Ringmahon Rangers and of course, because of that vested interest, I have probably watched Alan closer than many of the Irish lads playing over in England.
"When he has been playing at Preston, I have been able to come over and see him develop and he has developed into a excellent footballer and that is why he is there in the Irish set up now, on merit.
"He will be working with one of the best footballers, certainly that I’ve played with, in Roy Keane, one of the best players that the Republic of Ireland have ever produced, and he know will learn and will listen to what Roy will be saying to him.
"He can now start to develop on the pitch as well as off the pitch with Roy’s guidance. His story is one that I have certainly paid attention to over the years and I am delighted by the way that Alan has now progressed."