Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers: Kennedy delighted to finally be proving his point to Parkinson

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Middlesbrough’s run to the UEFA Cup final in 2006 is one that fans of the club, and indeed some players from that era, look back on now as being scarcely believable.

When you consider that they have been treading water in the Championship for the past five seasons, it is certainly hard to imagine that just nine years ago they were beating Champions League teams like Roma and Basle en route to the final in Rotterdam.

Jason Kennedy celebrates.

Jason Kennedy celebrates.

Imagine then how Jason Kennedy must feel when he reflects on that golden period.

A Middlesbrough lad born and bred, he played his way into his home-town club’s academy and then, by the age of 18, into the fringes of their first team.

Kennedy, a flame-haired, combative and hungry midfielder, trained daily with the likes of Gaizka Mendieta, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Fabio Rochemback.

He even made two appearances in the UEFA Cup campaign of 2005-06, starting both group games at the Riverside Stadium against Dnipro of Ukraine and Litex of Bulgaria.

He was an unused substitute in an earlier qualifying round against Xanthi of Greece, and was still part of the squad that manager Steve McClaren took to the final in Holland.

“That was a great experience for me,” says Kennedy, who was given his professional debut by future England manager McClaren.

“There were a lot of fine footballers around at the time; the likes of Gareth Southgate, Mark Viduka Gaizka Mendieta – great players that you looked up to and who helped you tremendously.

“I was in and around the first team from 18 and it was a great experience, because you’re learning from international footballers.

“The one memory that sticks out for me is that UEFA Cup run.

“I participated in that a bit and I remember the final vividly.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the squad that day but as a Middlesbrough lad and fan I just enjoyed the moment.

“The whole squad went and it was a fantastic atmosphere, just a shame about the result.”

Middlesbrough were beaten 4-0 by a rampant Sevilla, a crushing end to a fairytale run.

The side broke up after that, the big names moved on, and within a year so had the little names. Loan moves to Boston and Livingston became the norm for Kennedy as his early twenties dawned, and he eventually found a new permanent home at Darlington, with the more modest surrounds of the lower reaches of the Football League his new environment.

By way of a lengthy spell at Rochdale, Kennedy found himself moving to a club last summer that had just enjoyed their own rare moment in the football spotlight – Bradford City.

“I remember seeing the crowds and the atmosphere when they reached the Cup final two years ago and thinking that was something I wanted to be a part of,” says Kennedy.

With memories of European nights a distant dream, Kennedy, now 28, found his resolve and mental fortitude tested more than ever. For his move to Valley Parade did not go as smoothly as he had hoped and by January, Bantams manager Phil Parkinson had sent him back to Rochdale to get some games under his belt.

A drop back down the divisions that could have disheartened him led to Kennedy’s resurrection.

“I think, as a player, the tough times like that develop your mental strength and those aspects of your game,” says Kennedy, who helped Rochdale win promotion back to League One before regaining Parkinson’s favour in the summer.

“It makes you more determined and I was determined to prove people wrong because I don’t think Bradford fans saw the best of me.

“Looking back, it was a very difficult first year at Bradford but I never thought my days were numbered.

“For me, the loan back to Rochdale was just about playing football and getting back into the rhythm of things.

“Regardless of where I was, I knew I had to have a good season to sustain me for the future.

“I always wanted to make my mark at Bradford, ever since day one.”

Kennedy has certainly made his mark this season.

Alongside central defender Rory McArdle, Kennedy is the only ever-present this season, having made 19 appearances across three competitions.

He has also found the net twice. So what changed?

“I went away disappointed with the previous season as a whole, so I came back knowing I had to come in and work hard and show the gaffer that I can be the best player in training and give it my all,” he continues.

“That’s paid off so far. And now we’re in the season I’m doing what I’ve always done. I always want to focus on the areas of my game I still have to work on and, hopefully, I can do that and continue helping the team.

“I’ve been getting in good positions and scored a couple of goals, but my finishing could definitely be improved upon, and just overall I’m never satisfied with myself. I’m always wanting to improve.

“Everyone wants to play at the highest level they can. I don’t think any footballer will be satisfied with where they are, they all want to push themselves to the limit and see where it takes them.”

Ultimately, Kennedy joined Bradford because he believes they can retake their place in the Championship.

If they are to do that this season, then they need to arrest a slide from the play-off positions amid a run of just one win in seven games.

Kennedy attributes that to he and his fellow players not sticking to the task laid out for them by Parkinson, who, ahead of today’s Yorkshire derby with Doncaster, has challenged his players to attack and get the home crowd on side early.

“Going out and attacking will encourage our home fans,” says Kennedy. “We’ve worked all week on being positive, driving at players, getting the ball to our front men.

“Once you get Valley Parade on your side then that’s half the job done because they’ll sing you through to the 90th minute.

“That’s why I came here, to help them push on.”