GOALKEEPER Rory Kelly says Letterkenny Rovers have learned a lot from last season when their USL title tilt fell apart after Christmas.
Rovers had won all of their games before the festive break, but a defeat to Derry City in early January was the start of a decline in form that saw Cockhill Celtic retain the prize.
The Cathedral Town men ended the last term by beating Cockhill in the Donegal News USL League Cup final.
This year, Rovers have won two and drawn two from the opening four games in the bmcsports.ie Ulster Senior League ahead of a Sunday showdown as champions Cockhill visit Leckview Park this weekend.
“We’re in no panic,” Kelly said.
“There are so many games. Last year, we were ten unbeaten at the start. We actually won ten on the bounce and we were paying ourselves on the backs. You have to keep those points ticking over.
“We’re disappointed to be out of the Intermediate, but we have so much to play for.
“It’s good to look ahead and plan ahead. The League is the bread and butter. That’s the main one and we’ll take any others as they come. We’re due a good push. We have good depth in the squad now and youngsters like Jack Dwyer are pushing on now and producing.
“We have quality players across a lot of ages. It’s a matter of keeping them happy and content and being willing to stick at it. We have a good group in there and there is a nice buzz. We need to keep that going into Christmas and if we get that break right we will really progress as the season goes on.”
After draws against Bonagee United and Finn Harps Reserves, Rovers roared back to winning ways on Sunday as BJ Banda struck a deadly hat-trick in a 4-1 home win over Fanad United.
Kelly believes the former Finn Harps hitman can be a big difference.
He said: “BJ is beyond this level. Everyone knows that. When he is on his game, he’s unplayable here. He showed that that in the Cup final last year.
“He’s a different animal to what most strikers are at this level. He has everything: Pace, power and quality in front of goal. He will get chances in every game. It’s a great help for big games because he does perform in big games.”
A couple of weeks ago, Rovers saw nine-man Bonage snatch a draw from the jaws of victory before Harps held them at Leckiew. Sunday’s win over Fanad keeps Rovers sitting nicely, albeit at a very early juncture in the season.
Buncrana native Kelly, who has been Rovers’ number 1 now for a few seasons, said: “It was important for us to bounce back. It’s been a disappointing start to the season so far for us. Things just haven’t gone our way in some games.
“There’s been a few things in terms of gelling together because we have so many new players this year. We had a good spine last year but it’s taking time this year.
“We were very good against Finn Harps with ten men and showed a lot of good qualities. We did that against Fanad and sustained it for 90 minutes. We played some good stuff out from the back, as we do. BJ and Gary (Merritt) were on form and when they do that it’ll help in any game.
“We have a lot of quality in the team and you have to keep totting the points up over the whole season.”
Cockhill face an Intermediate Cup replay against Midleton in Cork on Sunday-week after being held at home on Sunday, but Gavin Cullen’s men won’t be able to rest easy a week out as they head for their old rivals.
Kelly believes the title race could go to the wire again.
The former Derry City and Harps stopper said: “The League is a lot more competitive than it has been in a long time. We went to Bonagee a couple of weeks ago and they’re a different proposition now. Finn Harps are the same. All the teams have some quality.
“The most frustrating thing for us last season was, when we dropped points after Christmas, no-one laid a glove on Cockhill. It’s good now that it looks really competitive.”
bmcsports.ie Ulster Senior League
Sunday, December 1, 2pm
Fanad United v Bonagee United
Finn Harps v Derry City Reserves
Letterkenny Rovers v Cockhill CelticTags: