By Jamie Moore
Daniel McKenna is a Belvo boy through and through. He joined the academy at the age of six and is still with the club ten years later, currently playing for our U16 Premier team, in what will be his last season at the club. Plans for a testimonial are surely in the making!
His brother Arron played for the club from the academy to U17, while their mum Karen has also been involved in the club throughout that time.
Goalkeeper Arron won the treble with Belvo U16s two seasons ago, he now plays for Bohemians U19s in the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland Northern Elite Division.
Dano captained the DDSL to Kennedy Cup glory in 2013, while he has also been captain of Ireland U15s and now Ireland U16s, lifting the Macron Galway Cup as Irish skipper earlier this summer.
Two weeks ago, Dano followed in the footsteps of former Belvo academy graduate Graham Burke, being a one club man who signed professional terms with an English club. The 15 year old, who can play at the back or in midfield, has signed for English Championship club Wolves.
He will move at the end of this season, when he turns 16. Dano spoke to BelvedereFC.Com about why he chose Wolves, his plans for this season and his time at Belvo. He started by explaining how the decision came about.
“After two years of running around on trials to loads of different clubs, it's good to have finally made a decision and have that bit of reassurance behind me. I picked Wolves because of the opportunity they can offer young players and it's just a great club all round. There are a lot of Irish lads there and they will help me settle in I think.”
FAI rules state a player can’t move abroad until his 16th birthday, so Daniel will finish out this season with Belvo, before moving in the summer of 2015. He doesn’t mind having to wait around.
“I don’t mind having to wait until next summer when I actually move over, I'll just focus on Belvo this year but I'll be back and forth to Wolves during mid-term breaks and at other times etc, but mainly focusing this season on Belvo and hopefully we’ll finish the season with a trophy or two in my last year.”
Every young footballer dreams of signing for a professional club, and Dano was no different. Having had trials with a number of different clubs over the last two years, he describes the moment he actually signed.
“I couldn't believe it when I actually signed, it took me a moment or two to actually write my name and the feeling didn't sink in until a couple of days afterwards, it's a huge opportunity that every kid wants so I'm going to make the most of it.
“I just need to stay injury free for the next year, get a good sleeping pattern, eat well and train hard and just focus on my own game. I don't need to get ahead of myself and lose concentration. I need to put the hard work in every day in training and even harder work off the pitch with my diet etc and going to the gym, so I can go over in the best condition possible.
“I'll hopefully be ending this season with a trophy and a couple of medals! Every night in training now will be enjoyable and full of banter. The sessions are always really good at Belvo, all based around the ball.”
Dano has worked under a number of different coaches since starting out at the academy in the Larkin College under Belvo legends Philip Manly, Martin Cooke and Eddie Foy.
“All of the different coaches I’ve had have really helped me on and off the pitch, physically and mentally too, I've also got a lot of great advice from well-respected coaches.”
McKenna has also been coached by Damien Manly, Simon Kelly, Darren Hennessey and now Ray McCann and Tommy Kenny.
He remembers the early days in the academy.
“I was an awful messer during those early days in the academy when I was only 6, I don’t know how the lads put up with me but I’m really glad that they did. I learned a lot, improved, made friends and head great fun.”
“I used to get thrown out of the academy a lot because I was a messer, but they (Philip and Martin) still talk to me now though!”
Mum Karen also remembers the early days for Dano and Arron.
“My first memories are of the boys down at the academy in the Larkin with Philip and Martin on a Saturday morning. It was great watching the boys on the pitch, learning new skills and having fun with all of the other kids. I used to wonder how the coaches put up with all the messing.”
Daniel is currently in third year, and will do his Junior Cert this coming summer before moving away. Thoughts of staying an extra couple of years to do his Leaving Cert never really crossed his mind.
“Honestly no, I just wanted to leave and move to full-time football in England as soon as I was 16. I'll do all honours in the Junior Cert and study hard to get good grades too.”
So how will he find the transition from part-time football in Ireland, to full-time training in the UK?
“I'll expect it to be tough and tiring. Every day after I finish training I can picture myself walking into my digs and going straight to bed. It's going to be tough starting off living away from home but as I get used to it I should be all good.”
Former Belvo player Matt Doherty is a regular in the Wolves first team, having signed for the club in 2010. Pictured on the right with former Belvo player Graham Burke who now plays for Aston Villa. Graham was presenting Dano with the Belvedere Young Player Of The Year Award is 2012
And a final word on his mum.
“I also need to mention my mam Karen. I wouldn't have got the chance to be playing football if it wasn't for her. All the cold rainy nights from Larkin College to Fairview Park to Clontarf and all the driving she does. I'd be lost without it all!
As he said, Dano is firmly focused on a successful season with Belvo, and getting a good Junior Cert, we will be seeing a lot more of him in a Belvo jersey before he moves away in the summer.