Interview with DLR Waves manager Graham Kelly

By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)

The DLR Waves will kick-off the new SÓ Hotel Group sponsored Women’s National League this weekend with an away game against last seasons Treble winners Wexford Youths Under a new manager, after former Bray Wanderers Head Coach Graham Kelly took the reigns in the off-season.

Kelly, who spent almost four years at the Carlisle Grounds, had been part of the Waves coaching set-up towards the end of last season, and he explained to me how it transpired, “It came about last season through a friend of Aaron Greene’s, who I had gotten to know. He was coaching the U17’s and the manger was going away for 3 weeks doing charity work so they asked me would I step in and give them a hand. I did, and I ended up staying with them for the remaining 6 weeks of their season, where they were narrowly beaten by Shelbourne in the League semi final.”

“Then there was a change in the structure as UCD Waves became DLR Waves with a new board running the club. I was then asked to meet up with some of the new board members, where they offered me the job of 1st team manager. I wanted to try and stay involved at the top level of the game in Ireland, whether it was the mens or women’s game, and the rebuilding plans and long term plans DLR waves had was very exciting.”

Kelly became caretaker manager of Bray Wanderers following Dave Mackey’s departure in April, after an 8-game losing streak. The club started off the season drawing 0-0 against Dundalk at Oriel Park. During his time at the helm Kelly instigated victories over Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic. He left the club in August after a 2-1 defeat to fellow strugglers Limerick.

He spoke to me about his time at Bray, where he says it was all good times despite the way it ended, “I have nothing but good memories of my time with Bray, from coaching the U17’s and U19’s, to moving into the 1st team setup. I worked with some great managers, coaches and players and learned something from all of them. I have to be grateful that the club gave me the opportunity to become caretaker manager and that was a valuable experience and something I feel very privileged to have done. Obviously, we would have liked to pick up more points than we did and that could have helped the club avoid relegation, however looking at the club now they seem to be back on track and it looks like they will definitely challenge for the 1st Division title.”

Kelly’s farewell message to Bray Wanderers

The disappointment hasn’t put him off trying again in the future, “I think as a coach you always want to challenge yourself and to me that’s working at the top level available to you when an opportunity arises. The Premier Division is obviously the top level in this country and I have been lucky I was given a chance to work in it. It is definitely something I would like to try again in the future.”

For now, the top level is the Women’s National League as he gets set for his first season as DLR Waves boss, something he’s really looking forward to, however he knows it will be a difficult year. Kelly said, “This year is a rebuilding year for the club. It’s a new club with a new board and the squad is really young, ranging from 17-24, but for what we lack in experience we make up for in effort. The girl’s have been great and have really bought into what we are trying to do. Realistically we would probably be looking for a mid table finish.”

The club have announced a squad of 24 players in January, much earlier than some other sides, and Kelly is happy with the recruitment, “Yes I am really happy with the players we have signed. I first met up with last seasons squad in December and I’d seen them play quiet a lot towards the end of last season, so I knew from talking with the coaching staff what players we wanted to sign. As some of them had offers from other clubs it was important to get them signed up and then we could concentrate on that squad of players for pre-season. We brought in 8 new players and dual signed 2 of our U17 squad, so we have 24 signed and that is us done for now. We will obviously look at this when the transfer window opens in July.”

Women’s football in Ireland is currently on an upward curve, including the National team narrowly failing to qualify for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, and the advent of the U17 National League. This season also sees new sponsors, the SÓ Hotel Group (owned by Supermacs founder Pat McDonagh) coming on board. Kelly agrees that things are improving, “Women’s football is definitely on the up. There is real quality in the league and also in the U17 league. The league is getting much more professional and the WNL board in the FAI are working hard to improve it each season.”

Kelly pictured with former Liverpool and Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers

He also says that the league needs to continue to grow, “For me there is still plenty of room for improvement, as all player’s in the league are amateurs and the harsh reality is it costs them money to play in our league.”

“We have done our best to try to bring a professional approach to our setup and try to look after the player’s as best we can preparing them for games, getting Supreme Altitude Gym on board as our strength & conditioning coaches, getting them new training kit, match day kit etc.. and this couldn’t have been done without the great support we’ve received from our sponsors.”

“I think with the new U17 league we will see a lot more younger players make thier 1st team debuts this season. It’s great experience for these girls to be playing Elite football at 16 and 17 years of age and then getting some 1st team experience as player’s can dual sign with their club.”

On Saturday week 16th of March they host Kilkenny United and the club have lots laid on on the day to create an excellent match-day experience for all that attend. Kelly said, “At DLR Waves we are trying to create a better match-day experience and get more people to the matches, We will be playing at 7pm on Saturday evenings and we will be giving out over 750 free kids season tickets to all girls teams up to U16s that are part of the DLR Waves pathway and also other local clubs in the DLR area. We will also have mascots and ball girls at our home games from these clubs and the kids will all receive a free DLR Waves snood and woolie hat.”

For anyone that’s never witnessed a WNL game previously I asked him what fans can expect, “All I can say is come along and watch a game. If you haven’t seen a WNL game before you will be suprised at the quality and pace of the game.”

As for a season prediction, the new Waves boss said, “This year will be too soon for us to challenge. As I said we have a very young squad and a 3-year plan now in place. It will take time for us to achieve what we want but who knows we might get a good cup run!!”

Pictures courtesy of Graham Kelly & Bray Wanderers

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