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Airtricity League: Kavanagh thriving on his red redemption

Ahead of tonight’s Dublin derby in Tolka Park, Shelbourne winger Paddy Kavanagh opens up on his nightmare season at Shamrock Rovers and his fresh start in Drumcondra.

FOUR GAMES INTO the 2012 Airtricity League season, Paddy Kavanagh crossed from Dublin’s north side to south and returned to Tallaght Stadium with a point to prove.

Two seasons earlier, the 26-year-old had been snapped up from Bray Wanderers as part of Michael O’Neill’s grand design to turn Shamrock Rovers into the unstoppable force of Irish football.

Kavanagh was in Tallaght for the good times, Rovers’ back-to-back league championships and an unforgettable Europa League campaign, but rather than play a starring role he was left kicking his heels on the sideline, frustrated by squad rotation and the limited opportunities coming his way.

When he cut his losses and left at the end of last season, he did so on good terms with all at the club except O’Neill whom, he felt, had broken promises and “strung him up.”

A fresh start at Rovers’ cross-city rivals and one-time landlords Shelbourne soon followed. Kavanagh got the new season off to a flyer with a goal in the first Dublin derby against Bohs as Alan Mathews’ men collected seven points from their first three games.

His return to Tallaght was an opportunity to continue that form; to prove that he had so much more to offer Rovers if only he’d been allowed. But that chance was snatched away from him within three minutes when Shels keeper Dean Delany conceded a penalty and was sent-off for a foul on Billy Dennehy.

A man down and a goal down to the league champions, Shels crumbled and went on to lose 4-0, their first defeat of the season.

“We were high in confidence and we’d had a good run,” Kavanagh told ahead of tonight’s meeting between the two sides at Tolka Park.

We’d beaten Derry and Bohs and drawn with Sligo so we were doing alright. But after two minutes the referee had the game ruined with the sending-off.

We wanted to give a good account of ourselves and it just kind of fizzled out.

Bad memories

The disappointment in Kavanagh’s voice tells you everything you need to know about his most recent night of pain in Dublin 24. While Rovers made headlines at home and abroad in 2011, he was reduced to a bit-part benchwarmer. It was, in his own words, “an awful season.”

“I left on good terms with everyone involved with the club, apart from the manager. Simple as.

“I sat down and had a chat with him throughout the year and he told me at one stage that I’d be given a chance to play and that I’d get a fair crack of the whip. Then, come the end of the July transfer window, he told me that I wouldn’t have much of a chance for the rest of the season. He kinda strung me up.

“Three of the bigger clubs were interested in my signature at that time but I was committed to Rovers. I wanted to stay and fight for my place under the impression that I’d get a chance to fight for my place, but in the wind-up I didn’t really.”

In the end, Kavanagh knew that either himself or O’Neill would have to make way. As it transpired they both did, Kavanagh answering Alan Mathews’ call to be part of Shelbourne’s first season back in the Premier Division while O’Neill moved north of the border to take over at Northern Ireland.

It didn’t take much from Mathews to sell Shels. All Kavanagh needed was the assurance that if he performed well on the training ground and on the pitch, he would get his reward.

“My stock has fallen over the last season. People think Paddy Kavanagh dropped off the map — ‘Where’s he gone? He’s just sitting in the stand every week.’

People think you must be sitting in the stand for a reason, you mustn’t be producing or doing it. I wanted to show them that I’m a good player and it was nothing on my behalf that I wasn’t playing last season. I was there, training every week, giving it my all. This year I’m getting the reward for training hard every week and I’m playing.

Fresh start

Not only is he playing but Kavanagh is one of Shels’ few ever-presents in the league this season. Although he has been shifted about slightly as Mathews alternates between a straight 4-4-2 and a more withdrawn 4-5-1 with goal machine Philly Hughes as the lone striker, Kavanagh’s role within the team remains fairly constant.

“I’m a creative outlet and our aim is to play football and do it in the opposition half. There’s no real messing around at the back. We need to create chances and score goals up top and that’s what I’m in the team for. If we can get the ball transferred to me in the opposition’s half quickly enough, there’s always a chance I can create something.”

This restored confidence has translated into goals as well, a commodity which was hard to come by during his time with Rovers. Already this season Kavanagh has scored three in the league; the one he got against Monaghan has since been rescinded but he’s still counting it, he laughs.

I’m a bit braver now when it comes to gambling, getting into the box and hoping that the ball breaks to me.

At times I used to hang on the edge of the box and hope for something to break to me that way rather than gambling at the back stick. If you don’t buy a ticket you’re not in the draw, you know? You have to just get yourself in there and see what happens.

It would be his sweetest goal yet in red if he can grab the winner in Tolka Park tonight. Rovers’ form before the mid-season break was patchy at best but Stephen Kenny and co have had the mid-season break and a chance to take stock, and Kavanagh expects to see a return to the Hoops of old.

“I’d say Rovers are thinking this is the start of their season now. I think we might see a different animal, they’ll be going for the jugular early doors. They’ve got a bit of a point to prove because they haven’t been playing well this season, that’s no secret.

“The expectation on them is huge. There’s massive pressure when you’re playing for that club.”

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