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'No worries' for Dundalk as life after Stephen Kenny begins in Cork

Georgie Kelly looks ahead to the new season, which starts with Saturday’s President’s Cup clash.

DESPITE A DEARTH of Premier Division experience, Georgie Kelly can make a legitimate claim to be one of the most promising players currently in the SSE Airtricity League.

Yet for the 22-year-old goal-getter from the Inishowen Peninsula, opportunities to prove that this season may again be sporadic.

Georgie Kelly celebrates winning Dundalk striker Georgie Kelly. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Such is the harsh reality of competing for a place with a man he describes as “probably one of the best strikers in the history of the League of Ireland.”

Patrick Hoban’s 32-goal contribution to Dundalk’s double-winning 2018 campaign will ensure that he starts the new season as their attacking focal point once more.

With that, Kelly has no complaints. He knew what he was getting himself in for when opting to join the Lilywhites from UCD midway through last season.

“Patience is key,” says the Donegal native. “All I can do is make sure I take my chances when they come. There’ll be loads of games, with the league and the different cups, and in the weeks when there’ll be fixtures on Monday as well as Friday. I’d be quite hopeful that I’ll get opportunities.”

Last season saw Kelly achieve the unique feat of playing for the eventual champions in both tiers of the League of Ireland. His 14 goals helped UCD to finish at the top of the First Division, but by the time the Students clinched the title he was a Dundalk player.

In addition to eight appearances off the bench for his new club, Kelly started four games in cup competitions. He scored twice during Dundalk’s FAI Cup run, which came to a successful conclusion at Cork City’s expense last November at the Aviva Stadium.

During preparations for the 2019 season, Kelly has shown glimpses of his potential. He scored a 19-minute hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Drogheda United and was also on target in a 3-1 victory against Swedish side IF Brommapojkarna.

Georgie Kelly celebrates scoring his third goal Kelly celebrates after completing his hat-trick against Drogheda United. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“No disrespect to UCD, but coming here was a huge step-up,” admits the Commerce graduate. “It probably took me a couple of months just to get going. I knew over the off-season that I had a lot of work to do to get to that level. I came back sharp and ready to go so I’m happy enough with how pre-season went.”

Having retained all the key players from last year’s successful campaign, Dundalk have also bolstered their ranks by adding former Ireland U21 international goalkeeper Aaron McCarey, ex-Watford midfielder Sean Murray, midfielder Jordan Flores from Wigan Athletic and winger Daniel Kelly from Bohemians.

“The quality in training alone is incredible,” Georgie Kelly says. “With the players that are here, even making the bench this season is going to be hard. It’s a serious squad.”

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Kelly is also adamant that the team can continue to prosper in the absence of Stephen Kenny. The new Ireland U21 (and impending senior) manager has departed Dundalk after presiding over the most successful period in the club’s history, with former assistant Vinny Perth stepping in to fill the void as head coach.

“It was very much a case of mixed feelings when he [Kenny] left,” says Kelly. “It’s great for Irish football, it’s brilliant for him and it’s something he could never say no to. It’s a dream job. On the other hand, it left us in limbo and there was a bit of uncertainty.

“He just has an aura around him. When I first came in I could see right away how respected he was around the club. People kind of hung on every word he said. That’s the power he had over his players and everyone else. He has a great demeanour about him.

“He’s a fantastic coach and a fantastic motivator too. Fellas would run through a brick wall for him. Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience a huge amount of hands-on work with him but he was still brilliant. I’m sure he’ll be successful with Ireland.

inpho_01394682 Kelly with former manager Stephen Kenny after signing for Dundalk. Source: INPHO/Ciaran Culligan

“But I’d be very confident in the new management set-up here. I think the board and the owners have done a great job in what they’ve put in place. I have no worries. I really believe we’ll push on.”

For the fourth consecutive year, Dundalk and Cork City will launch the new domestic football season by contesting the President’s Cup at Turner’s Cross on Saturday [5.30pm]. Dundalk’s league defence will begin a week on Friday when Sligo Rovers visit Oriel Park.

“Our main focus is on Sligo. I’d say we’ll treat this [the President's Cup] as another pre-season game and another chance to put in a shift of work,” Kelly says.

“As for Cork, I’d expect them to be right up there again this season. They’ve still got a very strong squad, especially up front with the likes of [Karl] Sheppard and [Graham] Cummins. They might have lost a couple of players but they’ll definitely be there or thereabouts.” 

Dundalk will bid to supplement another year of domestic dominance with progress in Europe. For Georgie Kelly, the aim is to ensure that he plays a significant role. 

“I really want to make some kind of an impact,” says the striker, who started his League of Ireland career at Derry City. “Depending on how it goes, I’ll see where things end up then. But as regards games and goals, it’s definitely a big year for me.”

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