There's been interest from other clubs, including one back home, but nothing has materialised - Darren Kelly

Mon, May 14 2018

Regardless of winning all three major domestic honours with his local club Derry City and enjoying a lengthy playing career in England and the Irish League, Darren Kelly’s managerial record made difficult reading until a recent promotion with Hyde United. In conversation with ExtraTime.ie, Darren reflects upon his time in football to date.

After a spell as a youth with Derry and District League outfit Trojans, Kelly joined the Candystripes in 1996, leaving in 2002 due to the club’s financial difficulties. However, he re-signed four years later and during both spells, experienced Premier Division, FAI Cup and League of Ireland Cup (three times) success, as well as playing in all six games of  2006/07’s UEFA Cup run.  

“I’m a stone’s throw from the Brandywell and think that you always give an extra 20% for your hometown team. I won the league with Derry in 1996/97 as a young whippersnapper. It’s the first result I look for and I’m passionate about the club. I still keep in contact with the board, players … Even those who have left.”

The young defender was one of several League of Ireland players to join Roddy Collins’ Carlisle United and despite reaching the 2003 Football League Trophy final, became aware of anti-Irish sentiment amongst a section of the Cumbrian faithful once things turned sour: “It hasn’t been brought up before and I’m surprised. For years afterwards, everything was blamed on the ‘Irish invasion’ of Carlisle and a drinking culture … That wasn’t the case. I felt sorry for Roddy … He was and still is a fantastic manager and was great to me and all the squad. He never favoured the Irish players, including myself. When you’re down the bottom of the league, the Irish boys got it.”

At the close of the subsequent campaign, Collins’ successor Paul Simpson informed Darren that he had to regain his fitness in order to remain at Brunton Park: “I picked up an injury, was out of the side and come the end of that season my contract was up. Paul said that I was part of his plans, but had to get fit, which I worked tirelessly to do in the summer. I was flying in pre-season, but then the club was looking to make cutbacks. The high earners:  me and five others, were asked to agree a settlement, which I did and moved on.”

Kelly’s new club was Portadown, where he contributed to the 5-1 2005 Irish Cup win over Larne in his maiden season, becoming skipper for the following one. It was during 2005/06 that the Derry native questioned some of his teammates’ commitment, which didn’t have a bearing on his Shamrock Park return three years later.

“As captain, I said that in the dressing room ... I didn’t go behind players’ backs. The quality we had, we should have been doing better. Certain players were choosing games to perform in. Everybody knew that man for man, we had the best squad in that league and I would agree. Glentoran or Linfield was fine, but against so-called lesser teams, the attitude changed. I admit that I was never the best player, but could guarantee to give my all and leave nothing on the pitch …You can’t always play well, but can control your work ethic. The manager supported what I was doing, but I wasn’t looking for pats on the back. When I came back to the club, I was living in England. I enjoyed my second stint, but couldn’t keep up the travelling.”   

In 2007, Scottish Premier League sides were keen to acquire Darren’s services, but instead he opted for the Conference Premier’s York City: “My fiancée at the time was living in Carlisle, but from York. Lots of enquiries came on the back of the European run with Derry. There were numerous Scottish clubs interested, but I wanted to go back to England.”

From 2011-2015, the Derry native wound down his playing days by turning out for English non-league teams such as Stalybridge Celtic, Garforth Town, Frickley Athletic and Scarborough Athletic, while also taking on coaching roles at York and Sunderland. Kelly then took charge of Oldham Athletic (where he received a death threat), FC Halifax Town (who went 12 games unbeaten following his departure) and Hyde United (losing all six remaining 2015/16 league fixtures) ... All for short-lived spells. However, once reappointed as Hyde boss, Kelly’s off-field fortunes improved when he achieved promotion from the Evo-Stik North in 2017/18.

“Sticking to my beliefs is key. When I got my pro licence, I wanted to start at the bottom, in non-league, and work my way up. I got the Oldham job ahead of time. I put my application in, hoping to gain some interview experience. It didn’t go the way the club wanted, so they sacked me. When I went to Halifax, some players had in their contracts that they could only train at night. I’m professional in what I do and couldn’t go on. After that, I set out on what I initially intended. I went into Hyde, six games to go, couldn’t sign any players and they were already relegated, pretty much. When the season was over, I was offered the job and told them that I’d think about it. I wanted reassurances and time to turn things around, which I did. What I’d put that down to was everything we did on the training ground. We got promoted and went through six rounds to get into the FA Cup first round proper, which was televised against MK Dons.”

Now that managerial success has finally arrived, what does the future hold? “I wanted promotion on my CV and I’ve done that. There’s been interest from other clubs, including one back home, but nothing has materialised. We’re a league higher and if something happens, it happens, but for now, I’m fully focused on Hyde.”