Kerry FC Director of Football Billy Dennehy says club will recruit local talent rather than investing heavily on outside players

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Kerry FC, which is at an advanced stage of applying to be admitted to play senior League of Ireland football next year, plans to build its team and future by recruiting home-grown local players and “hard graft” rather than throwing money at bringing in big signings, according to the new club’s Director of Football Billy Dennehy.

he former Sunderland, Derry City, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic player – who grew up in Tralee – was speaking in Mounthawk Park on Wednesday when a delegation from the FAI visited to the Kerry District League headquarters to advance the licencing process with a detailed inspection of the stadium.

Dennehy – who currently manages the Kerry under-19 team in the League of Ireland – was joined at a press conference by Kerry FC CEO Brian Ainscough, KDL chairman Sean O’Keeffe and KDL secretary John O’Regan to give further details on the planned entry into League of Ireland football for a Kerry team.

“Kerry FC’s main objective is to provide an elite pathway for the young players of this county and this region,” Dennehy said. “The grassroots section of the county has always been very strong and the clubs do a phenomenal job and the platform they provide on a weekly basis for recreational level sport. But there has never been that pathway for elite level (soccer) in this county. Not many people really fully understand what it is to be from here and try to become a professional footballer. The obstacles you face, the hurdles you’ve to overcome and not many people can really understand that desire to try and go on and progress in this game.”

On the issue of funding the new Kerry FC club, Dennehy stressed that the resourcing of and growth of the club would be based more on a self-sustainable model rather than injecting huge amounts of money into the venture.

“You can go about this model one of two ways. You can go about the model where it requires extensive revenue in terms of recruitment of players and resources needed, or you can go the model where you recruit locally and then try to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. And that’s the model we are going down. This isn’t a white horse coming here by the lads promising they’re going to do this, that and the other. This is going to be built on what Kerry soccer has always been built on, hard graft, a lot of hours.

“The resources will be available through Brian and the group in the US but ultimately it’s not going to come away from what we are trying to achieve here, which to create a community based club that will become self-sustainable as quickly as possible. That’s the aim, and as we can grow and develop in the medium to long-term we can certainly change our objectives and maybe look at other resources that might be required to go to the next stage. But for the short-term it will be very much about operating the same way as it always has.”

Dennehy played schoolboys and youths soccer with Tralee Dynamos and Kingdom Boys, and then after short time with Shelbourne in Dublin he signed for Sunderland in 2005. By 2008 he was back in Ireland playing with Derry City, and for the next decade he carved out a very successful playing career in the League of Ireland.

“I suppose since I have retired I’ve come back and my sole focus is how can I knock down some of those barriers that were there for me,” he said. “Not only that, but when lads do go away – and they have gone to England over the years – clubs celebrate them, they have been part of their development and they are delighted they go away, but how many of those player are back now and don’t play anymore?

“It’s important for me that we have a back-up plan for those players, it’s important for me that we provide the springboard back into the game for them. It’s not easy, it never is, when you’re striving to be at an elite level, but it is important that we can do everything off the pitch to provide the platform, and then, as always, the rest is up to the players and the opportunities they take.

“The groundwork to all this has started long before my time. The (KDL)  have put the structures in place at the underage national level, but now we can see groups of players coming through that have the hunger and desire and, I suppose a belief as well, that they belong at this level. We know we have a long way to go to make up the levels of the gaps to the teams that are above us but we strive to do that.

“In relation to Brian and the club, it was very important for me that the alignment between the administrative side of the club and the sporting side of the club was fully aligned strategically, and the objectives of what we could achieve with a local group of players. The biggest thing that Brian has brought is the model and structures that we’re looking to come in, aligned with what we view as the best sustainable model for not only the short-term but the long-term also.”

Brian Ainscough is the CEO of Kerry FC, a Dublin native who is 20 years living in Boston where he works as CEO of the Boston Bolts, an MLS Academy Club. Ainscough got involved in the Kerry FC project through Steven Conway, a former Kerry U-21 soccer player who now coaches at the Boston Bolts and works under Ainscough.

“I’m here at the invitation of Steven Conway, who works with me over in Boston, and Steven put me in touch with [KDL officials] about an idea that himself and Billy Dennehy were playing around with which was to try and make sure that players within Kerry had the opportunity and a platform to play at the highest level,” Ainscough said. “And that basically is the simplest way that we wanted to (create) a place for Kerry players to play in their own backyard. That’s where the conversation started with Stephen and Billy, and then we reached out to John (O’Regan), Sean (O’Keeffe) and a few others, and that’s how we are sitting here now.”

Kerry FC expect to have their completed licence application submitted to the FAI by early September, and a decision is expected to be made on it by mid-November. While the KDL executive acknowledge there is a lot of work to still be done, the soundings are positive that the application will be successful and Kerry will have a team playing in the League of Ireland First Division very soon.