With kick-off in Qatar just hours away, the final installment of our World Cup Warm-Up series lands with Rotherham United striker Georgie Kelly.
We spoke to Kelly earlier this week - read on to hear him reminiscing on his memories of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and his predictions for the upcoming tournament.
Georgie Kelly on his fond memories of South Africa 2010
For Georgie Kelly and his Rotherham teammates, the football season will take a brief pause while the World Cup takes place over the next four weeks.
Though many Premier League teams and their fans will bemoan the loss of momentum, the pause in the domestic season is surprisingly welcome for Kelly and co., after a gruelling start to the season which has seen them play 21 league games, on top of cup commitments, in little over three months.
Kelly speaks to us from his home county of Donegal, where he has returned for the beginning of the break, and tells us the break was well-needed up and down the Championship:
You're playing Tuesday-Saturday, Tuesday-Saturday for the last four or five weeks, it's relentless.
To be honest, I know a lot of teams who have picked up a lot of injuries couldn't wait for this break honestly. It gives clubs a chance to regroup, players a chance to recover...we were the walking wounded for the last few weeks, our physio room was mobbed. It has come at a good time.
It'll be all guns blazing when things come back, that Christmas period is always hectic and it's my first time experiencing it.
We have a week off at the minute, I'm home in Donegal. We've been given a week off and then we go away for a training camp - but training will be ramped up in the next few weeks. People think we have a month off, that's not how it works!
Kelly moved to Rotherham from Bohemians earlier this year, after his goalscoring exploits helped Bohs to European wins and the FAI Cup final in 2021.
Like every football fan, the 26-year-old has fond memories of watching the World Cup as a child, and says that his most vivid childhood World Cup memories come from the 2010 edition in South Africa.
The first to be held in Africa, 2010 was memorable from many standpoints, even if it may not have been the most entertaining series of games to ever grace the World Cup.
Georgie Kelly has particularly fond memories of the infamous match ball of the 2010 World Cup.
— Diego Forlán (@DiegoForlan7) July 6, 2022
Named the Jabulani, the ball was notorious for its odd behaviour in the high altitudes of South Africa, with players able to create unnatural levels of swerve, as the ball appeared to wobble in mid air.
Kelly remembers the atmosphere in South Africa capturing his imagination, and that
South Africa was my first taste of the World Cup.
That was an incredible World Cup - the whole vibe around it, obviously it was the first one in Africa, but the amount of little memories I have from then...
Even the ball, do you remember the Jabulani? And the vuvuzelas, the noise of the vuvuzelas in the stadiums - that was the first World Cup I have a key memory of as well.
It all plays a role in your memories, them little key moments and the songs.
That probably makes you look back with rose-tinted glasses.
In the last installment of the World Cup Warm-Up on Balls, Amber Barrett spoke of her shared love for the 2010 World Cup, particularly the extraordinary atmosphere for Siphiwe Tshabalala's opening goal against Mexico.
Of course, there is the potential for someone to make themselves the new hero of this World Cup, with young talent bursting on to the scene every four years.
The 2014 World Cup, and the Colombian superstar at the centre of it, is Kelly's fondest memory of such an instance. He also says that he sees an up-and-coming Barcelona star as having the potential to folllow in James' footsteps this time around:
I remember James Rodriguez having an amazing World Cup and that kind of propelled him. There's always one.
This year, it's hard to call. It depends as well on who does well, depends on the squad and how they perform.
I know Spain have a lot of incredible young talent in Gavi, and Pedri - even Ansu Fati as well, I know he's struggled with injuries as well, but I think he could come on the scene and play quite a bit.
He hasn't been playing as much with Barca recently, but I feel like he could be one who could crack the scene and really propel himself. He's serious, and he's been plagued by a lot of horrible injuries. But he's Barcelona's number 10 and, after Messi, he's definitely someone I think could burst on the scene.
Messi will be a big story of this World Cup, of course, as will Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, on the final World Cup appearance for all three.
Interestingly, when we asked Kelly for his dream 2022 World Cup five-a-side team, none of the iconic trio made it in, with some eclectic picks at the centre of a fun team.
An Arsenal fan, Kelly makes room for the Gunners' shot stopper as his keeper, with a veteran centre back in front of Ramsdale balanced by youth further up the field:
Because I'm an Arsenal fan I have to go for Ramsdale, don't I?
Big fan of Thiago Silva, he must be 38 now...I'll go with Thiago Silva.
Three more players? I think Camavinga with France is a real talent as well...I'll put Pedri in as well.
Striker...I'll go with Harry Kane. It's probably a weird shout but I'm a big fan of Harry Kane, big number nine. He could drop in deep as well.
With Ireland missing from the men's World Cup for the fifth consecutive tournament, attention for the national team has already turned to North America in 2026 - but Georgie Kelly is optimistic about the prospects of Stephen Kenny's young Irish team:
It would be nice to see, 2026 would be nice. It would be a nice one to qualify for [in the USA, Canada, and Mexico] - remember the fans at the EUROs.
We have that crop of young players that Stephen is bringing through at the moment, and who are coming from his U-21 squad a few years ago. Evan Ferguson, Adam Idah, there's loads - Jason Knight.
If you think about 2026, that could be around a peak period for Irish football, you would hope.
You can't deny that we're on the right path and that things are looking up. You have to be optimistic looking at that squad and the age cohort. Hopefully 2026 is the one.
Ireland will not be in Qatar this year, but England will be and, naturally, the attention of Irish viewers will be drawn to the soap opera across the water.
Georgie Kelly thinks that, because of recent poor form, England have gone strangely under the radar in the build up to the tournament, which could aid a team infamously impacted by the pressure of the media in previous tournaments.
Nonetheless, Kelly does not see England going further than the semi-finals. Unlike many Irish fans, he says that he would not mind seeing England go on a run deep into the tournament - but that he does not want to see them win it!
Because we're such close neighbours, most of us are fans of Premier League teams, we have players from our clubs that we support playing for England.
We know all the English players, we see them every week - so it makes that attraction to them...we're keeping an eye on them, even if we say we aren't! We'll be watching and looking at them.
I'm one of those weird people who wouldn't actually mind seeing England doing well and get fairly deep in the competition, it makes it a little more intriguing. But I wouldn't say I'd want to see them win it!
England will undoubtedly be one of the stories of this World Cup, as they always are, and how successful they will be off the back of 2018 and EURO 2020 could be a make-or-break moment for manager Gareth Southgate.
It's set to be a barnstorming and open World Cup - and, with a bit of a break from the Championship, Georgie Kelly can hope to join his fellow football fans in enjoying the show over the coming weeks.