Alan Kelly Snr

In Profile

by Colm Keane

Former Ireland goalkeeping legend and Bray Wanderers’ Life President, Alan Kelly, has a treasure chest full of trophies and memories. This FAI ‘Hall of Fame’ winner from Bray holds an English FA Cup runners-up medal with Preston, an FAI Cup winners’ medal and a League of Ireland winners’ medal with Drumcondra and 47 caps with the Republic of Ireland – not to mention a host of memories from his days as a player with Bray Wanderers.

“I remember how I joined Bray Wanderers”; Alan Kelly told me this week. “I had been playing with local clubs Cualann Rovers and Dargle Rovers. One night, when I was about 17, someone said that Mick Donegan, who ran Bray Wanderers, wanted to see me. I ran down to the Carlisle Grounds and he said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said ‘I’m Alan Kelly.’ Then he said,’ Oh no, it’s not you I want to see, it’s someone else.

“I was walking out when he called me back and said, ’I’m sorry, but would you like to play against Glebe North on Sunday?’ Apparently, Bray’s regular ‘keeper was injured, so Mick asked me to take his place.

“It was like winning the pools. We drew 2-2 with Glebe North and I remained in goal for the rest of the season”.

Alan Kelly played for Bray Wanderers from 1955 to 1956, and amongst his memories is a titanic FAI battle between Bray and Workman’s Club – a game brought to a replay at the Carlisle Grounds following a 0-0 draw in Sallynoggin.

“We had the replay on a Wednesday and the Carlisle was packed. We were the favourites to win but we hadn’t banked on a player called ‘Ticky’ Hill who played for them.

“ ‘Ticky’ was about five feet four inches, and we both went for a cross ball with the score at 0-0. As I came out ‘Tricky’ beat me to the ball and put it in the back of the net. We lost 1-0 and, believe me; the Carlisle Grounds were like a graveyard.

“I can remember walking out of the Carlisle after the game. We went up the Quinsboro Road, where all the Bray people were standing at the corner. I thought, ‘ how can we get past them?’ But ‘Rutch’ Toole, who played for Bray at centre forward, said ‘Let’s walk up to the Town Hall and face them all’. The two of us were shaking in our shoes. But we did, and they forgave us, thank God”.

In 1956, Alan Kelly was transferred to Drumcondra, where he won an FAI Cup medal (1957) and a league of Ireland Championship medal (1957/58). Within weeks of his transfer, he was selected in goal for Ireland, playing in an historic 3–0 victory over West Germany, the World Champions. His next match for Ireland was in the World Cup – against England, at Wembley.

“ I was still playing League of Ireland at the time and was working as a plasterer in Dublin. By way of contrast, England had Stan Matthews at outside right and Tom Finney at outside-left. We lost 5–1 that day. I didn’t have a particularly good game. I could have stopped two of the goals. I was dropped for the next game and I wasn’t asked to play again for four and a half years after that”, Alan said.

In 1960, Alan was transferred to Preston North End, where he played a record 447 league matches for the club. He also played with Preston in the 1964 FA Cup Final against West Ham United, losing by three goals to two.

“I’ve never seen as many professionals crying in the coach driving away from Wembley. We played quite well, but at the end we were all crying. Still, it’s a great memory”, Alan said.

Alan went on to win 47 caps for the republic of Ireland, over a 17 year period from 1956 to 1973 – a remarkable achievement at a time when Ireland played no more than three or four times a year.

His sons, Alan Jnr (Sheffield United) and Gary (Oldham), also continue the goalkeeping tradition, while his son David regularly plays in goal in the English Sunday League.

“David was born in Holles Street. Gary and Alan were born in England. But never, ever mention that they are anything but Irish or they’ll kill you”, Alan said.

Today, Alan lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, where he runs successful goalkeeping clinics. Yet he retains strong links with his native Bray.

“Alan and Gary are always over there. My sisters Barbara and Patricia also live there, along with the in-laws Jackie and Nancy Ryan. And I get over as often as I can.

“I still love the people in Bray. They were very good to me and very supportive of me. It was a great time. I wish I was starting all over again”.

Colm Keane

Award-winning broadcaster and writer, author of A Cut Above The Rest (Townhouse, 1999), as well as Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 1998; this article is included in that volume) and More Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 2000), together with other volumes based on his work for RTÉ Radio.
First published in Seagull Scene, the Bray Wanderers match programme.

Copyright © Colm Keane 1998; all rights reserved, no re-publication without the author's permission

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