CRUELLY forced to retire from playing soccer at 27 because of injury, Liam Kelly may well wonder what else he would have achieved in the game had he been able to continue. But last Saturday the Clarion Hotel Dublin Airport was no place for contemplating the ifs and maybes as the Rush native's successful career was marked by the presentation of a Hall of Fame award.
Liam, who is still only 37, won an FAI Cup, League Cup and Leinster Senior Cup and also boasts a rare Champions of Ireland medal from the year when St Patrick's steamrolled their way to the league title, only to have 15 points docked because of a player registration problem. Not bad for a player whose career was ended just when he was reaching his prime, and of course one of his biggest memories was playing in that Shelbourne v Glasgow Rangers Uefa Cup tie in 1998, when Rangers overturned a 3-0 deficit to win the first leg 5-3 and went on to complete a 7-3 aggregate victory.
'We knew from the off the challenge we had because they had two players who went on to win the World Cup and three who won Champions League medals, and I think we were in shock from the moment we scored the first goal,' Liam recalled. 'We were 3-0 up with 20 minutes to go and the wheels came off then, but it's still one of the most famous games in League of Ireland history.
'Going from Home Farm, who were a First Division club, to Shelbourne was probably the highlight of my playing career, because it was my first taste of professional football and seeing how the league was run at the time. It was a special club and the best players in the league were playing for them.'
Of course, Liam has since gone on to enjoy a successful career in management and he is currently in charge of Leinster Senior League club Glebe North, but on Saturday events at Market Green were put to one side as he enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.
'It's always been a fantastic night, any time I've come before it's been brilliant and to be in the Hall of Fame is special,' he said afterwards. 'It was unexpected and I was completely taken aback when I got the phone call, but I'm absolutely over the moon. People like Con Martin, John O'Leary and the last time I was nominated for the Sport Star awards Martin Finnegan received it, so it's very special to be in the Hall of Fame with people like that and I'm thoroughly honoured to be in the same company as them.
'I thoroughly enjoyed it and hopefully this doesn't mean that it's the end of my successes and I can get back up as a monthly winner again! ' Liam also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the other 16 winners on the night. 'When you read about them every month it probably doesn't do the people justice. When you sit there and actually hear what they have achieved - like the Paralympics and the Ryder Cup - it's absolutely phenomenal,' he said.
'I didn't think the list of that girl's talents were going to end when they were doing the Young Sport Star and it's very special to be around people like that, but it's also fantastic to be part of it to see what it means to people like that young lad from Rush, James King. 'I would know his family growing up and they're over the moon, and it goes to show what a fantastic event it is - and it can inspire young people to go on and push on to the next level in their career.'