AIRTRICITY LEAGUE SOCCER: RORY FEELY INTERVIEW
Feely aiming for third place to crown magnificent debut season with Waterford
By Daire Walsh
HIS current employers made headlines last week by securing European football for the first time since 1986, but as the present campaign moves towards a close, Waterford FC defender Rory Feely is not prepared to take this foot off the gas.
The Athy man has made 28 league appearances to date for the Blues, who are guaranteed at least a top-four finish in this season’s League of Ireland Premier Division. With Dundalk and Cork City once again progressing to the FAI Cup final, an extra Europa League spot was opened up.
A 2-1 reversal to Dundalk places them three points behind Shamrock Rovers in the race for third, making this Friday’s meeting at the Tallaght Stadium must-win affair for Alan Reynolds’ Munster men.
“The mood was obviously lifted immediately for us. We’re still fighting for third. Rovers won at the weekend, they’re three ahead of us. Our focus is still on trying to finish third rather than sitting back now that we’ve qualified for Europe and just let the season go,” the versatile Feely remarked.
“Friday’s game is our biggest of the season so far. They’ve gotten themselves back up to third, ahead of us after we had a spell there. We’re going to have to go up and play our best game of the season, in order to come away with a win up in Tallaght.”
Waterford had been on an impressive run of form prior to their loss against the newly-crowned champions – winning three times on the bounce against Bray Wanderers, Sligo Rovers and Bohemians.
Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk juggernaut provided a different challenge and Feely acknowledges they were beaten by a better side on the night.
“They’re really showing why they are the top side in the league at the moment. They’ve just won the league, they haven’t let off the throttle at all. When they came down to Waterford we expected a tough game.
“They played a full strength team and they played the football. They were the better on the day and they came out with a deserved win, really.”
In the first half of the season, Waterford were in contention for top honours alongside Dundalk and Cork City – before the big-two inevitably created a gap over the remaining teams in the division.
Nevertheless, the return of top-flight football to the RSC has been an unqualified success for all connected to the club.
“Coming up from the First Division, obviously Waterford’s goal would have been not to get relegated and go straight back down. Come second half of the season, still in the top-four, is a huge boost for both the players, staff and even the fans.
“We’re getting over 2,000 fans to each home game, which is huge. I suppose the reason we’re doing that is because we’re doing so well. Hopefully we can keep success going into the coming seasons.”
Feely is one of a small collection of Kildare natives currently plying their trades in the league. Paul Hunt (Clane), Mark Hughes (also Athy) and Aaron Brilly (Kilcock) are part of the First Division furniture, while Kill’s Sam Byrne enjoyed fleeting cameos at Dundalk before making a loan move to Irish Premiership outfit Glentoran.
Gary Shaw of Newbridge is also an established first-team squad member at Shamrock Rovers and may well have a role to play in this Friday’s clash. In his time with the south Dublin club, Shaw has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail and Robbie Keane – who has previously trained at Rovers to maintain his off-season fitness.
Waterford welcomed former Republic of Ireland international Noel Hunt into the club on a player/assistant manager basis back in July – a move that benefited Feely and his team-mates in the second half of the campaign.
“As you’ve seen, Noel has gone out and he’s scored three or four goals off the trot. Unfortunately he’s injured now for the end of the season, but it has been a huge boost and obviously every player has learnt from it.
“Obviously with him not being able to play, he’s going to be more on a coaching level. With the strikers we have, if they can listen to anything he says it’s going to be positive. He’s played internationals, he’s played Premier League.
“Coming up to the Rovers game, he should be able to share enough experience with us that will help us through.”
It has been an eventful 2018 in the Feely household, with older sibling Kevin playing a prominent in Kildare’s summer resurgence under Cian O’Neill. The two brothers have dovetailed effectively between GAA and soccer in the past, so it is comes as little surprise that Rory sees parallels with the way their respective seasons have developed.
“It was kind of a similar situation. They had a great start last year and they had a bit of a rut in the league this year and they finished strong in the Super 8s. It was kind of like our start this season. Great few wins at the start of the season with a few losing streaks in the middle and then we were trying to push on at the end.
“There’s just a big push at the end of the season to try and end the season on a high. Just like Kildare did with the Super 8s. Playing well there, beating Mayo. They kind of ended their season on a high as well.”
In much the same way as the Lilywhites are hoping to build on the encouraging displays of the past few months, Feely believes it is essential for Waterford to remain in the upper echelons of the Premier Division over the next couple of years.
“You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder as they say. Where you come from Division One, you finish fourth and then the next year you’re back seventh and eighth. If you’ve come up to the top-four, everyone is expecting a bit more. Absolutely, the goal is to keep going upwards in the club,” Feely added.