PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland

so farewell then...

john kennedy

Of all the “So farewell then” columns that have appeared in these pages this is surely the saddest because this guy could and should have been a Celtic legend, a stalwart and captain for years to come but for a despicable challenge by Romanian forward Ionel Ganea in a meaningless friendly game.

Kennedy came from an impeccable Celtic bloodline - his Grandfather on his mother’s side was Celtic legend Jimmy Delaney - and he came through the youth system with the likes of McManus and Maloney. He was the youngest ever player to start a game for the club when he made his debut aged 16 against Motherwell at the fag end of the Barnes/Dalglish year. Dalglish had made the decision that he would blood as many of the young players as he could before the end of the season, to make it more interesting for the crowd as much as anything, and the final game of that season (the one where Larsson made his comeback) saw seven of the reserves playing in the first team.

Kennedy was at the back with Mjallby. At one stage during the second half the Celtic defence attempted to catch United offside, but typically made a mess of the line. Kennedy realised the flag wasn’t going up, took a couple of steps back and scissor kicked the ball clear. A centre half that can do overhead kicks. Wow!

When Martin O’Neill arrived Kennedy went back to youth and reserve football but continued to improve. By the time season 2003-4 came around he was 19 and beginning to force his way into the manager’s plans.

At the turn of the year a couple of injuries allowed O’Neill to pick Kennedy and he slotted in like a veteran; powerful in the air, precise in his tackling, assured first touch, able to pick a pass and not afraid of anyone. The only thing he seemed to lack was that bit of devil that most centre halves have; the willingness to take someone out at the halfway line and accept a booking to avoid a dangerous break. Perhaps it was his youth and that would have developed as he became more experienced, or perhaps it was because his positional sense was so good he didn’t have to do that.

The game he will always be remembered for is the night in the Nou Camp when Ronaldinho and company couldn’t find a way past Kennedy and Marshall.

Only 15 minutes in to that game it appeared that he’d finally met his match when Ronaldinho went down after a challenge in the box. Commentators all over Scotland screamed for a penalty and couldn’t believe it when the ref waved play on. But the ref had seen the touch JK had got on the ball just before he connected with the Brazilian., TV replays confirmed what an exceptional tackle it had been.

A star was born, but within a week his career was all but over thanks to Ganea (I’m not into wishing ill on other people, but a curse, a bloody terrible one, on that swine).

The 04-05 season was a disaster for many reasons. The O’Neill era ended with a whimper and most people surmised that the loss of Larsson had been too great for the team to overcome, but I disagree.

Larsson was an incredible player - peerless - but his departure alone should have been manageable. To also lose Mjallby at the same time was an enormous blow, one almost ignored at the time. We also lost Liam Miller as he chased the impossible dream at Old Trafford and while all this was going on John Kennedy was undergoing a series of operations as the surgeon Dr Richard Steadman attempted to rebuild his shattered knee.

With Steadman holding the scalpel the chances of recovery were as good as anyone could hope for. In the past he had successfully restored the careers of people as diverse as Roy Keane, Joe Montana and Monica Seles.

After two years of operations and rehabilitation John Kennedy returned to training in the spring of 2006 and when injuries began to mount toward the end of that season he was brought back to the first team for our league winning visit to Rugby Park.

It wasn’t quite like he’d never been away but it was great to see him back and a relief that he’d come through the game unharmed.

Three days later he signed a new three year deal. Gordon Strachan has since said that Kennedy getting through that game was the best memory from his time with us given what the player had to go through to get to that point.

He started the following season looking more like his old self; not as quick as he had been but still a great presence in the team and his re-appearance produced genuine competition for central defensive places between McManus, Caldwell, Pressley and Kennedy.

That all came to an end when we played Shaktar Donetsk in the Champions League on the 28th of November 2007.

The night had already been a poor one for Kennedy. He’d misjudged a through ball which allowed the visitors to take the lead, after 30 minutes; he went up for a header, won it but landed awkwardly. His knee buckled beneath him and gave out.

The initial prognosis was that he would be out for three months, but that time was based on the healing time a healthy knee would have taken, not one that had been constantly operated on for the past three years.

In truth that game was the end and the crowd that clapped him off that night suspected as much at the time.

The announcement a couple of weeks ago that he was hanging up his boots aged 26 was a surprise to no one, but a sad one for everyone who follows football.

The club have said they will look after him, hopefully he will have a role helping the young players or as some kind of club ambassador.

We wish all the very best for his life after football.

AB MURDOCH