By Jamie Moore
Aberdeen goalkeeper Danny Rogers signed for Belvedere as an eight year old, before moving to Cherry Orchard and signing for Aberdeen as a 16 year old.
Now in his fourth season with the SPFL club, he spoke to Jamie Moore about Belvo, Orchard, the rivalry and life in Scotland.
Rogers moved to Belvo from Artane Beaumont as an eight year old, his brother Sean was already playing for the club. He explained why he wanted to move to Belvo.
“Belvo were the top club in Ireland so I always wanted to play for them but I was scared that I wouldn't be good enough and I wanted to play outfield. Finally, I went on trial and I signed as a left winger. I scored on my debut against Tolka Rovers.”
Little did he know he would become an underage international goalkeeper and play against Rangers at Ibrox in front of 40,000 people just a few years later. He remembers ‘Fortress’ Fairview Park.
“I’ll always remember Fairview Park, it was like a fortress and we were always told that no matter what happened, no team would come to Fairview and win and we did our best to make sure we never lost at home. I remember we used to have to get changed in the container with all the paint and brushes before games and sheltered in there when it rained. It sounds very old school when you think of the facilities these days but we didn’t mind, it was all about the football.”
“When I went to Belvo from Artane, the step up in class was incredible. Every player seemed to be sharper, fitter and more dedicated. One of the players who stood out was Darragh Lenihan, you could always tell he would be a pro.”
Leno now plays for Blackburn Rovers and is an Ireland U21 International. After four seasons with Belvo, Danny moved to rivals Cherry Orchard when Belvo signed a new keeper.
“I was in tears and absolutely gutted, I thought that was my footballing days were over. I was going to sign for Shels on the Thursday, they weren't that good and were in the major league at the time but on the Wednesday morning Ray O’Toole rang my dad and asked me to sign for Cherry Orchard. It was a no brainer as they were the champions so I was delighted.”
That signalled the start of Danny’s progression to being one of the top goalkeepers in his age group, along with Home Farm’s Ian Lawlor (who now plays for Manchester City) and Belvo’s Lee Brandon. Cherry Orchard dominated the age group up until U14, when Belvo won the All Ireland. Two seasons of top class battles followed, as Belvo and Orchard traded blows in league and cups.
Danny explains how Belvo and Orchard battled to become top dogs.
“It was always St. Francis who competed with us at first, but as the years went on Belvo became a force and there was little or nothing between the teams at 14s, 15s and 16s. We played in Fairview one year and the game went to penos, by the time the shootout was over it was fully dark we were celebrating. There are pictures and you can barely see us because it's that dark.”
“Another great game was in Phoenix Park when I forgot my gloves and had to get a lend from one of the Belvo lads. I ended up playing really well and saved a peno but Belvo were just too good that day and ran out winners.”
Belvo won the All Ireland at U14 but the biggest battles came at U15 and U16. Belvo met Orchard in the SFAI U15 Cup final, Orchard took the lead and were 1-0 ahead at half-time, but second half goals from Adam Evans and Dermot Louthe secured victory for the boys in blue, their second All Ireland title in a row.
“Those games were always really tense and I used to get so nervous before them as every game had so much on the line. You knew that so many important people in football were watching and everyone always wanted to impress. Most of the international team played for Belvo or Orchard so there was battles all over the pitch. Darragh Lenihan v Luke Gallagher in the middle, Pierce Sweeney v Jamie Smith at the back and Kealan Dillon v Ryan Coombes up front. All of the players were competing for place in the Irish team so winning was very important to every player on the pitch.”
Danny describes really well just how big these games were. Orchard won the league that season.
“That All Ireland final defeat was the worst day in football that I’ve ever had. I was the Captain too. Thinking back now I remember feeling sick for weeks after it. There was a big bust up between both teams on the pitch after the game too, showing just how much it meant to all of us.”
That game signalled the end of DDSL football for a number of the players, Belvo’s Kealan Dillon signed for Derby County while Adam Evans moved to Burnley. Cherry Orchard centre-back Jamie Smith and midfielder Brandon Miele joined Newcastle United.
The battle at U16 was no different, with the biggest came coming at The Lawns in the All Ireland semi-final. Billed as winner takes all, a tight game in front of a huge crowd ended with Belvo advancing to their third All Ireland final in a row, a game they lost to Cobh. The boys in blue won the League and League Cup double as Danny ended his last season with Orchard trophyless. The photo here shows Danny on international duty with Belvo lads Pierce Sweeney and Lee Brandon.
That was the last season for Belvo and Orchard in that age group. With the national FAI U19 League starting and a number of the players moving away to the UK.
Belvo’s Pierce Sweeney moved to Reading, Lenihan, already mentioned, is at Blackburn while Sean Kavanagh signed for Fulham. He made his first team debut for Fulham in the Championship last week.
“I saw recently that Kavo is starting for Fulham which is great. You could always see that he had ability but was small and always going to be a late developer. Pierce also made his debut for Reading in pre-season, he is a leader and I think he will have a good career in football. Leno has been unlucky with injuries over the last couple of years but I believe if he stays fit he will be a top player in a few years.”
Interest in Danny really started after the Galway Cup. Trials to Stoke, Aberdeen, Portsmouth and Celtic followed. He remembers the day he signed.
“I had been at Aberdeen on trial on four different occasions and then Celtic came in and asked me to go to them on trial for a month. I did really well and Aberdeen found out and quickly offered me a contract along with Stoke.”
“I will always remember the day I was offered the contracts, I couldn't keep the smile off my face and wanted to tell everyone. I was buzzing to tell my dad because he put so much time and effort into my football that I knew he would be proud of me. I chose Aberdeen over Stoke because I thought I would have a better chance of breaking through and I think I made the right decision.”
Danny is now in his fourth season with Aberdeen but it yet to make his competitive debut, despite playing in friendlies. He went on loan to Airdrie last season and is now on loan with Scottish Championship side Dumbarton.
“I wasn't up to scratch in training when I first went to Aberdeen and I was struggling to be honest. I was thrown in for the U19s against Hearts and played really well and my confidence grew from there and it was like I was a different keeper and I haven't looked back.”
He made the bench for the first team towards to end of his first season and was the backup ‘keeper on the bench for 20 games the following season going to places like Celtic Park. The loan to Airdrie was an important move, as Danny explains.
“That loan was really important for me to get to play some first team games, I feel I learnt a lot from them. We played rangers live on BT Sport in front of 10,000 people and lost 1-0. It was disappointing to lose but I played well and was good exposure for me on the TV.”
Danny was sent out on loan against at the start of this season, but it hasn’t been a great start to life in the Championship for Dumbarton, with three defeats from three games and nine goals conceded.
“We haven’t had a good start but we have had some hard games. It's tough because we are part time team in such a good league and most of the teams are full time, fitness is a major factor. I think we have good enough players to turn it around and start getting results.”
“It's good for me because I'm getting a lot to do and that's always good for a keeper to be on his toes all the time. It's such a difference playing first team football because when you lose, the players kick off and scream and fight with each other. I'm used to playing U20 games and if you lose it's not a big deal because there isn't any fans your letting down and the points aren't as important. It's such a good league this year with Rangers, Hearts and Hibs in the league. I hope to get a lot of games and hopefully big teams see me doing well.”
Dumbarton played Scottish giants Rangers at Ibrox last week in front of 40,000 people. An experience 20 year old Danny will never forget.
“Playing at Ibrox is the highlight of my career. It was amazing walking out to that many fans. Thousands of people coming to see you play really makes you want to work hard and have that feeling week in week out. Having watched the Old Firm derbies on TV as a kid, I never thought I would get to play there.
So what about his plans for the future?
“I'm on loan here until January and the situation will be assessed from there. I'm not sure what will happen but contract at Aberdeen is up at the end of this year so I hope to impress and get a new one.”