James Kavanagh chats about his time with the Students so far...
Representing your country at the European Championships is something we have all dreamt about. While preparing for exams in a European Championships year, the temptation for daydreaming is difficult to beat. Drifting away to a warm climate where your header inside the box or wonderful last minute strike from 30 yards sends the favourites packing, Roy of the Rovers style, is the perfect way to forget about the looming exams. It doesn’t help when in reality these exams are a matter of weeks away and you are in fact playing in a European Championships that will end a mere 5 days before the biggest test the Irish classroom has to offer.
This is the situation UCD AFC’s James Kavanagh finds himself in. Yesterday, James headed off with the Republic of Ireland Under 19 squad to take on the best Europe has to offer. Israel, Portugal and the Ukraine form the group Ireland will aim to make their way out of. At just 18 years old, James has already packed a lot into his fledgling career that has had its fair share of twists and turns.
The Booterstown native grew up in the shadow of UCD and passed it every day on his way to school in Oatlands College. Like so many of UCD’s first team, James started his footballing education with Belvedere Boys and quickly stood out as one of the most talented in his age group. With a stand out Kennedy Cup behind him in 2008 it was not long before the talent scouts from England came knocking. A Kennedy Cup winners medal, a Kennedy Cup Player of the Tournament Award and a Longest and Quickest Goal gong, for a peach of an effort from inside his own half, made it very difficult for any self respecting talent poacher to look the other way.
This performance and many more lead James to Burnley. From the big fish in a small pond to a big fish in shark infested waters James was up against it from the start. Competition was high as on the pitch he battled for recognition and off it battled with being away from home in a harsh environment. Three months later James decided to call time on his Burnley adventure and return home. “It was extremely competitive there, on and off the pitch. I just didn’t feel comfortable and there was no point staying when I knew I would be more comfortable at home”, Kavanagh recalls.
Back at home and James was faced with the prospect of returning to Schoolboy football, up step big brother Patrick. Patrick himself played with UCD AFC before making the trip across the water to play with Birmingham City, the older Kavanagh has gone from strength to strength since his return and he had sound advice for his younger brother. “He told me I was too good to play in Schoolboy football and I should take my chance and push on.”
Kavanagh joined Eddie Gormley’s Bray Wanderers and played almost 25 games in total in the 2010 season, “It was a great experience, and getting the chance to play at such a young age in such a competitive league was incredible”. Gormley’s tenure at Bray was not a successful one and the following year Bray looked to bring in more experienced players and Kavanagh saw his opportunities diminishing with every new arrival.
Where can a young player, with the confidence and ability to play at the highest level, be encouraged to fulfil their potential, without the threat of a more experienced player taking their place? You guessed, Martin Russell’s UCD were going through a change of their own and Kavanagh grabbed his opportunity to impress during a trial period with the Students at the beginning of 2011. “We were hockeyed by UCD when I was at Bray, we spent the whole game chasing shadows, if we gave the ball away we would never get it back, it was torture”. James wanted to be the torturer rather than the tortured and he set about making his way into UCD’s first team thoughts. Now with plenty of minutes under his belt in both centre midfield and centre back this season James is beginning to mature into a player that may one day compare favourably with his older brother.
This comparison is one of the downsides of having a brother in the league, “Everyone is looking to compare us, its puts enormous pressure on me to get better and achieve, he has won a league title and now I want one”. It’s not all negative though as James is quick to point out, “In fairness that is the only negative, it is great having him there. When it comes to advice he is brilliant”. In the recent clash at the Bowl between Patrick and James...sorry UCD and Shels, Patrick was quick to encourage his little brother, “Get on the ball and play, you are good enough to do it, so just do it!”
It is this confidence to play that has got James to where he is and the next couple of months are shaping up to be very interesting indeed. Ambition is something Kavanagh is not short of, for himself or the teams he plays in. “I want UCD to do well, we are capable of making the top six, and I think we definitely can”. From a personal point of view more minutes and more goals in the UCD side is what he is looking to achieve. If he achieves this, more international recognition will not be long in coming. Capped at under 15 and under 16 level, this call up is James’ first at under 19 level and one that he is relishing. “We should get out of the group and hopefully get at least to the semis. From my point of view I know I wasn’t in the original squad but have my chance because of injury to other players but I will be looking to play my part”.
The Kavanagh’s have a strong connection to UCD through both Patrick and James and there is potential for that to continue. A younger brother is already making waves in schoolboy football. 11 year old Bryan has “a serious left foot, great speed and a brain as well, which isn’t a bad thing!” James muses.
But now there is only one Kavanagh of interest to UCD and with him Portugal this weekend he will no doubt be missed at the Bowl, but isn’t that what UCD is all about. Giving young players the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the business and having the maturity and confidence to take the rewards that come with it.