Boro boss Darren Kelly's Euro trip down Memory Lane

Football people with Champions League experience on their CV aren’t exactly ten a penny in the seventh tier of English football.
Boro boss Darren Kelly, left, in action for Derry City against PSGBoro boss Darren Kelly, left, in action for Derry City against PSG
Boro boss Darren Kelly, left, in action for Derry City against PSG

Yet, in Darren Kelly, Boro boast a manager who is no stranger to the European game.

This season, he has had to negotiate trips to Warrington and Basford, but as a player he man-marked Paris Saint-Germain’s Portuguese star Pauleta in the Parc des Princes and helped shock two-time UEFA Cup champions IFK Goteborg on their own turf.

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These memories have come flooding back to the 40-year-old in recent weeks following the appointment of his then-manager, Stephen Kenny, as Republic of Ireland boss.

And although his main focus now is very much on trying to revive Boro’s fortunes, Kelly relished the opportunity to re-visit “some of the best nights of my career”.

“It’s what you dream of as a child,” said the Northern Irishman of the evening in September 2006 when he ran out for hometown club Derry City in a UEFA Cup first-round clash at the home of the Parisian giants.

“It was such an unbelievable feeling playing in a stadium like that. Even just the build up, getting a police escort to the ground.

“The whole experience was very special.

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“We’d drawn 0-0 at Brandywell in the first leg and we went over to Paris thinking we could beat them, such was the belief in our side.

“In the end, we lost 2-0, but both their goals came from set-pieces. They didn’t really hurt us in open play.

“I man-marked Pauleta and absolutely loved the challenge. While I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, he barely got a kick all night.

“They had some very good players in their team, but I didn’t feel like we were outclassed at all.

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“We had a strong side, a good management team and great togetherness and camaraderie. There were lads in that changing room who would run through brick walls for one another. We’d go to war together and that is why we were able to compete.”

Kelly was among the goalscorers when Derry beat Scottish first division side Gretna 7-3 on aggregate to set up their meeting with PSG, but it was during the first qualifying round when they really made Europe sit up and take notice.

Inspired by the arrogance of former Sheffield Wednesday and Sweden midfielder Niclas Alexandersson, the Candystripes beat Goteborg home and away without even conceding a goal.

“Alexandersson came out in their local press saying that all they had to do was show up on the night and they were going to teach us a lesson and do this and that,” revealed Kelly.

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“There’s your motivation right there. He wrote us off and also wrote our team-talk for us. We beat them 1-0 in their own back yard and even though it was the same scoreline at home, that was a convincing win.

“Their centre-forward was linked with Spurs and they were there watching him that night at Brandywell, but we never gave him, or any of their other players, a moment the whole game.

“Getting those results and going through the rounds in Europe like we did was pretty much unheard of for Irish clubs at that time, but everything just clicked and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

The following season, Derry made it into the Champions League and were drawn against Armenian outfit Pyunik in the qualifying stages.

“The European Cup is the big one isn’t it?” said Kelly.

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“Again, we got a 0-0 draw at home but when we went over there it was something like 38 degrees if I remember rightly, and although we played well we got beat 2-0.

“It was just another unbelievable opportunity playing in that competition and getting paid to travel to a different country and play football. It doesn’t get much better.”

Kelly signed for York City after leaving Derry and it was then that a love affair with Yorkshire began to blossom.

He spent two seasons in the Conference with the Minstermen, before heading back across the Irish Sea to join Portadown in 2009.

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“I loved my time at York. I still live in the area and have brought my family up here,” Kelly added.

“It is such a well-supported club with a die-hard following.

“Obviously times have changed and I’m very surprised and also very sad to see them where they are now.”

The final days of his playing career saw Kelly take in spells at Garforth, Frickley and Boro, but by this point he was more focused on coaching.

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His initial big break in management came with League One Oldham in 2015, but that was to last only nine games. Later that year, he took over at National League FC Halifax Town, though again things did not work out and he left the Shay by mutual consent just six weeks after accepting the job.

“They were challenging and difficult times at both Oldham and Halifax, but I feel that I learned a lot,” reflected Kelly.

“After the way things went at Oldham I vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen to me again. I walked into an absolute mess at Halifax, and things weren’t done the way I liked, so we mutually agreed that I would leave.

“I enjoyed some good times at Hyde after that and now I’m at Scarborough, where I am very happy. I’ve been made to feel so welcome by all the fans.

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“I wasn’t given the time to try and build something at Oldham or Halifax, but I’ve got that opportunity here and I’m in it for the long haul.

“There’s still a lot to be decided before the start of next season, I don’t know what my budget will be, but if I’m able to bring in all the players who I’m looking at, then I’m confident that we will be able to challenge for promotion.”

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