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Drogheda Independent

Plan to erect statue of local soccer legend Gary Kelly

'Drogheda has such negative press and marking what Gary Kelly has done would be inspiring for young people'

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Soccer star Gary Kelly

Soccer star Gary Kelly

As an up and coming young player, Gary Kelly is pictured here with an under 14 player of the year trophy

As an up and coming young player, Gary Kelly is pictured here with an under 14 player of the year trophy

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Soccer star Gary Kelly

A campaign is afoot to get a statue erected to another great sporting ambassador from Drogheda - that of Former Leeds United full-back and Republic of Ireland soccer star Gary Kelly.

Soccer fan Martin Rafferty 'got the ball rolling' last month on social media and got such a massive positive response, that he is trying to take the idea to the next level.

'Drogheda has received so much negative press over the past few years, and I think marking what Gary Kelly has done would be an inspiring story for young people,' says Martin, who is an addiction counsellor. 'He is such a humble guy, that when I contacted him with the idea, he really didn't want one, but I told him to just go with the flow and see what others think about it and not knock it straight away.'

46-year-old Gary spent all his footballing career with Leeds United, clocking up 531 appearance, as well as shining in Jack Charlton's Ireland squad in the USA in 1994.

After his testimonial match between Leeds Utd and Glasgow Celtic, Gary donated the €1 million takings to opening a cancer support cenrte in memory of his sister Mandy, who sadly died in 1998 aged just 35.

'I've been a Liverpool supporter all my life, but Gary was the first person I had ever heard of to give all his testimonial money to charity,' says Martin, who was born and bred in Ballsgrove. 'We have those great statutes of Socks Byrne and Joey Maher, and look how many people get their photos taken with them, and if we've recognised them, why don't we recognise one of greatest living sportsmen from the town?'

Martin has written poetry for years, and is currently working on his fifth book.

He loves his town, and hates to see what has happened to its reputation over the past few years, from the actions of a few.

'Drogheda is a wonderful town - I love it - but we need positivity, and when Gary played football, he was a fantastic role model for teenagers, and has gone to do so much more for thousands of people,' he points out. 'Whenever I pass the centre in George's Street, I say 'please God, I'll never need it', but so many do and they are a fantastic support.

'I have two daughters - Hanna (23) and Laura (19), and they are doing great, but if you were to believe social media, you would think Drogheda is a terrible place, and I'd hate to be a teenager here.'

The Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre is situated in Georges Street and is a place of reflection, retreat and recovery for people 18 years and over living with a cancer diagnosis and their family members.

Mandy Weldon, sister of Gary Kelly, died in 1998 through Breast Cancer and the memory of Mandy afforded Gary the opportunity to give something back to the region as a result of his successful career. Many of the local businesses matched Gary's generosity by donating money, time, material and labour to the project.

Martin says he knows Gary wants any funds to go towards the centre and not towards a statue of him, but Martin says if everyone donated just €1, they'd have the money in no time.

'I put the idea on Drogheda Down Memory Lane Facebook group and so many people thought it would be a great idea, so that's why I've decided to keep going,' he says. 'I think I'll get a committee together, and see how much more support I can get, and hopefully Gary won't stop us!'

Drogheda Independent