FORMER Kildare and Athy GAA star Kevin Feely began a new career as a professional soccer player on Monday after signing with Championship side Charlton Athletic.
Feely had starred for Bohemians in the Airtricity League in the season, which ended at the start of this month, and his performances at centre-half made him one of the hottest properties in the country. He was linked with a number of English clubs but in the end, Charlton was the only offer on the table.
“I was over with Peterborough and the manager and director of football both said that they were going to speak to Bohs and try to arrange a deal. In the end, their chairman wouldn’t give them any money to spend so they weren’t able to make an offer. Charlton had put a deadline on when I had to decide so in the end the only offer I had was from them so I had to go there,” he said.
Not that he feels shortchanged in any way.
“I probably would have picked Charlton anyway, it’s a brilliant club and I love it over here,” said Feely, who is currenly staying in digs which are a ten minute drive away from the training ground.
The 20-year-old won’t be able to join up with first team squad immediately as he must wait until the transfer window opens in January to fully complete his move. Instead, he will spend the next month training with the under-21 team.
Once January comes around, Feely will put pen to paper on an 18-month deal and set about breaking into the first team squad. He feels that the experience he has built up with Bohs over the last 12 months will be a huge benefit to him.
“I think it is a big help. A lot of the under-21 players wouldn’t have as much experience of playing first team football so whatever I am lacking in technique, I might be able to make up for in terms of experience of playing against senior players. That was something that Nathan (Jones, Charlton under-21 manager) said to me. That should definitely stand to me. It was lucky that I had that coming over here,” he said.
Of course, Feely had other options in different sports and after he had starred for Athy through their Leinster campaign, the talk around these parts 12 months ago was that he would be called up to Kieran McGeeney’s senior Kildare team. In the end, Feely decided to throw his lot in with soccer and feels that his transfer justifies his decision.
“It was nearly this time last year that I talked to you and said that this was the goal for the end of the season. It’s brilliant that it worked out and in the end that I made the right choice to stay with the soccer. I’m absolutely delighted, it couldn’t have gone any better this season,” he said.
While Feely is excited about his future and doesn’t leave with any regrets, he does leave Athy GFC with a heavy heart. After winning a host of underage county titles not to mention last year’s senior championship win, he leaves behind a lot of friends.
“I was lucky in that the short space of time I was playing the club achieved what we set out to. I’m not going away with any regrets so I am lucky in that sense. I’ll always have the club in my heart, they’ve been brilliant for me for the last few years. It was very sad to leave and I know that I probably won’t get a chance to play with them again but I think in the three years we couldn’t have done anymore,” he said.
And those friends made sure to give him a proper goodbye off last weekend.
“It was a great send off. A good few of us went into Naas and had a great night, it was great craic. I’m a bit sad to leave obviously but I’ll be back over Christmas so it’s not too bad.”
After dusting off the Sunday morning hangover, it was off to London to begin a new life but it’s not only his friends in Athy that will wish him well. Feely has thrilled any true GAA lover around the county with his performances in red but also his displays for underage Kildare teams. Nobody who was in Parnell Park in 2010 will forget his penalty and last gasp equalising point in the second game of a trilogy of minor games against Dublin. Or his three superb points from play in this year’s under-21 defeat in Offaly.
GAA’s loss is soccer’s gain but if he brings the same level of dedication and effort, as well as skill, to Charlton’s soccer pitches as he has done around the GAA fields of Kildare then we are sure to be hearing a lot more about Feely in the future.