Ireland suffered a last-gasp 2-1 aggregate defeat by Les Bleus in November 2009 as France went through with a goal which should have been disallowed for a blatant handball by Thierry Henry.
But the 28-year-old Fulham defender believes that cruel defeat will finally be consigned to the past – if they get past Estonia.
“The freshest in the memory is still France and everybody has got that scar that wound is still there,” said Kelly.
“It’s something that if we qualify now, hopefully that will be papered over and that will be it, we can forget about it and it will be all done. It’s fresh in our minds and we are all keen to not let something like that happen again.”
Ireland have only qualified for a major tournament from the play-off stage once before – courtesy of a 2-1 aggregate victory over Iran back in 2001 – and they have not featured at a tournament since the 2002 World Cup.
And Kelly is hoping he will be able to emulate the Irish heroes of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups in Poland and Ukraine next summer.
“Just to think back at that [World Cup 2002], it makes you smile and think about how close we are to possibly being at a stage like that again where we could really give the country a boost, which would be a fantastic thing to do,” he continued.
“As a kid, you always supported Ireland. I always supported teams in the Premier League, but Ireland was the team you watched and you cared about the most.
“Growing up playing football, your dream is to play for Ireland and play in a major tournament.
“We are very close to it now and if it comes through, it will be a dream come true for me and I am sure everybody else in the team. It would be a special thing.
“I know the way all of us feel about playing for our country and playing for Ireland, so it be a fantastic achievement.”
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