DARREN KELLY’S amateur boxing background has come in pretty useful during his time at FC Halifax Town already.
It was an unforgiving school of hard knocks in the early stages of his tenure at The Shay, with Kelly hit by a haymaker in his first match in charge, which incredibly saw visitors Cheltenham Town triumph 7-1 on October 6 – a more one-sided National League bout you would struggle to witness.
His second home game at the helm? A 3-0 defeat to Woking, while his second away outing with the Shaymen was also memorable for all the wrong reasons. A 7-0 trouncing against a rampant Grimsby Town at Blundell Park.
For Kelly, it is a case of what does not kill you makes you stronger. It is just as well.
The 36-year-old from Derry had already copped a fairly hefty seasonal blow after being sacked by Oldham Athletic on September 12 following a torrid run with the patience of the Latics board snapping after a 5-1 home defeat to Peterborough United.
But for the Shaymen boss – a gritty defender in his days with Carlisle United and York City after coming across to England following a memorable stint in the League of Ireland with Derry City – giving up just wasn’t an option.
Less than three weeks later, he was back in management across the Pennines at Halifax.
Kelly, who well recalls some pugilistic days in his time at Brunton Park in the era of Roddy Collins – who incorporated boxing sessions into training – may well have taken a number of early blows in the solar plexus in terms of results.
But he has dug deep and rolled with the punches with him and his side now starting to give one or two blows back, including an extra-time victory in their fourth qualifying round derby replay against Yorkshire rivals Guiseley at Nethermoor on October 27.
A deflected strike from James Bolton earned Halifax a famous 2-1 triumph with their prize coming tomorrow afternoon at home to Wycombe.
And it is fair to say the stories of the Shaymen’s demise are greatly exaggerated and what Kelly can promise tomorrow is tenacity and a fighter’s heart.
On his boxing background as a youngster, Kelly told The Yorkshire Post: “I always remember boxing for Ireland and this bout that I had against a Belgian.
“It was three, three-minute rounds and to be quite honest for say two rounds and two minutes of the third, I was behind and in the last round I was beaten to a pulp and gone and not able to throw anything and the opponent was bigger, stronger and fitter.
“But I never gave up and one lucky punch got me the victory. And the point I try and make to my players is ‘never give up’ and give your absolute all.
“Against Guiseley in the FA Cup, I said that. After 90 minutes, they were dead on their feet from the Saturday. But they pushed boundaries and I talk to them about doing that and breaking barriers.
“We got our rewards by getting through to the next round of the cup and now we have to believe what we can do and get the support bouncing around the stadium and create a rapturous noise as I will have the team motivated.”
Motivation is something that Kelly knows plenty about and while he earned his coaching spurs with the likes of Sunderland and York, he is also a qualified psychologist and his skills are already proving useful in his lastest posting.
Halifax may have been on the floor at times this season, but they are far from being out for the count and Kelly is also aiming to use his psychological training to good effect ahead of tomorrow’s cup-tie.
He added: “I am big on planting seeds and motivation to get players to perform to the best of their abilities. I hope what I say will inspire them.
“As much as I believe players should be self-motivated, for me, you have to plant seeds to get more out of them and I have a couple of things up my sleeve what I want to bring out.
“I am hands on in wanting to get the best out of the players. I understand some might not have the best ability in the world. But if you go out and give absolutely 100 per cent, that’s all you can do – and win your individual battles.
“The person you are playing against might be a bit better. Like on Sunday, the Wycombe players are in the Football League and ours are not. But for me, the man who wants it the most will get the victory
“That is what I want to instil into the players. How much more do you want it than the player you are playing against? How good are you against the player from the Football League? That’s what it’s about.”
Long-term, Kelly is hoping to secure an extended contract at Halifax, with his current deal lasting until the end of the season.
It is something to strive for, with Kelly, assisted by an experienced figure in former Morecambe boss Jim Harvey, having already spotted considerable potential at Halifax which he is eager to tap into.
Kelly, who counts Brendan Rodgers and Joe Royle among his managerial influences, said: “I was never the best player, but have good numbers and inspiring people to call and pick their brains on things.
“But I want to create my own future, style and way of doing things and I am very hands on and clued into what I want to do.”
On tomorrow’s tie, he added: “I will say to the players: ‘Go out and give your absolute best.’ No-one really expects anything, but I want to go out and shock people and plant a few seeds and I am confident in my plans with the players. I am a qualified psychologist and that’s for a reason.”