WHEN DID IT ALL GO SO RIGHT?
Looking into the club from outside, you might be forgiven for thinking Darren Kelly has undergone some kind of miracle transformation from football fool, to football genius over the past 18 months, but the reality is that Darren is the same man he has always been, he has just been given the time required to achieve.
With a televised home tie in the FA Cup first round proper against MK Dons shining a spotlight on Darren, sitting along side a current win ratio of 59% with only two losses in the league in 2017, it is no surprise that people are interested in how this has been achieved. It is a simple enough story, and a lesson to a lot of clubs in a sport which doesn't seem to learn from its past mistakes.
For anyone who knows Darren, and I am lucky enough to speak to him every day, it is clear he is a genuine, hard working, honest, family man who is driven to always do his best. He is likeable, inclusive of all and fiercely committed to always working at the highest level to achieve his aims, and to deliver on the aims and objectives which have been set and agreed with the Club.
He moved to England from Ireland as a teenager and forged a career as a professional footballer playing at Carlisle United at his peak. He followed this by completing a Degree in Psychology, at the same time as working through his coaching qualifications to eventually achieve the much coveted Pro License. This led to roles at York City Academy and Sunderland Academy, before becoming the surprise choice as Manager of Oldham Athletic in the spring of 2015.
Darren will freely admit that his appointment at Oldham was not part of his plan for personal development, coming two or three years earlier than he expected, and the experience taught him a lot about himself, but much more about the industry. He never had the opportunity to select and recruit his own squad, or backroom staff, and the board at Oldham remained in control of a lot of decisions, which directly effected his ability to deliver on the very things you need to control, to make what you are doing a success. It was a very short reign, with absolutely no opportunity to make changes, and he leapt out of this frying pan directly into the firing line at FC Halifax with much the same result, other than it was Darren who took the decision to walk away when he realised he was not able to work in a way which would allow him or the team to be successful.
Darren joined Hyde United FC as caretaker manager at the end of the 2015-2016 season before applying for and getting the job on a permanent basis in June 2016. The board followed a rigorous selection process, advertising a detailed job specification, which was written along side a 5 year business plan, with aims and objectives which ran through both documents. With over seventy applications and a final five for interview who were all highly qualified, Darren was appointed on a vote of three to two against another outstanding candidate.
The first job was to halt a slide which had seen the club in free fall. The club was not in great shape with three relegations in four years, crowds down by 50% and about £500 in the bank. It did have some positives, with a deal agreed with Tameside Council to replace the pitch with a new synthetic turf surface, a new board who were appointed when the club was taken into fan ownership following the departure of its owner/benefactor, and an Academy which was recognised as one of the best in non league football.
Darren met the players, persuading the best to remain with the club, and recruiting new where he could. Hyde was not the club of choice for a lot of players following its recent history, so in some cases, he made do. He embraced the Academy, realising that there were a number of players with real quality, and he recruited Dave McGurk to join as player coach working along side Gareth Prendergast, Chris Shaw and Stef Todd from the Academy.
His opening 10 games were no different results wise from what he achieved at Oldham or Halifax, but at Hyde he was not under pressure from the board. We had jointly agreed our aims, and everyone was fully aware of the task ahead and realised this was going to take 6-12 months to show genuine improvements.
Darren learnt quickly about the league, and the rules regarding player recruitment, with 7 day notices and non contract forms, and six months in, with Hyde sitting uncomfortably in the bottom half of the league, he changed a number of key personnel and started our current run of form. The appointment of Paddy Miller as captain and leader was a major step forward. Paddy was attracted by Darren's vision for the club, and is someone who leads by example. He asks everyone in the club to be the best they can be, encouraging those on and off the field to work hard, to strive to achieve their best and where possible to win. Players found their voice, and the younger boys stood tall along side their more experienced team mates, allowing players like Big Khamsuk to release their potential on the field, where they now felt they could play without fear. The end of the 2016-2017 showed the Hyde team we wanted to be, with results which put us as the form team in the league, and genuine contenders for promotion in the coming season.
In the summer of 2017, Darren had the opportunity to recruit on the basis of a solid platform, which he has built over the previous 12 months through hard work and a determined professional approach to the job as a full time manager. This was achieved with the background of a strong financial performance from the club meaning a slightly increased budget allowing a number of key recruits. Players like Paddy Miller, Kyle Harrison, Matty Beadle, James Burke, Janni Lipka and Harry Coates were retained. Academy graduates Big Khamsuk, Ryan Ellison & Pete Boyle were offered their first senior contracts, and Chris Sutherland, Tyrone Gay, Tom Pratt, Peter Cook and Luke Porritt added real strength to the squad.
Darren, Dave, Gaz, Stef & Chris are committed and forward thinking, and each week they make improvements to the club which continually push up the level of professionalism. Match analysis using Hudl, player analysis using PlayerTek GPS, a full time data analyst in the back room staff, and David Fowler joining to provide high quality scouting reports on the opposition. Little things which give us an edge.
The results are there for anyone to see. Top of the form charts, with one defeat in 29 games, and a place in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup against league opposition, being shown live on the BBC.
Darren hasn't changed from the man who got the job at Oldham two and a half year ago, he has just been given the time to show what he is capable of. If more clubs approached the appointment of their manager as we have done at Hyde, and then stood by their decision, I am sure the results for the managers / clubs /players would improve.
The reality is, that if your club has had three or four managers in two years, it is more the fault of the people who appointed them rather than the people who were appointed.
Updated 12:14 - 27 Oct 2017 by Mark Worthington