Donnelly emerges as this season's Local Hero

Friday 16th September 2011

One thing that Second Division Airdrie United have in common with English Premiership side Newcastle United is that both clubs play the signature music from the 1983 Film ‘Local Hero’ at their games.

Ryan DonnellyThat may well have to change as The Diamonds look to ask Mark Knopfler and David Bowie to collaborate on a joint effort called ‘Local Heroes’ due to the growing number of local lads holding down jerseys in their first team. The Lanarkshire side have seen a number of home produced players, such as Scott Sally, Graeme Goodhall and Fraser Keast grow into first team regulars since their relegation from the First Division in May 2010 and they have also seen a number of players who live locally do the same thing.

Jamie Bain and Ryan Donnelly have become established in Manager Jimmy Boyle’s side over the past year and Airdrie fans have also seen the locally based Kieran Stallard and John Boyle join up this summer from Falkirk and Auchinleck Talbot respectively.

At the moment, one Donnelly is playing the lead role as ‘Local Hero’ in his side’s plans for a promotion push with a fine goalscoring run that has seen him net five times in the League already this season (he has also scored three times in the Scottish Communities League Cup) and the 19-year-old is certainly a fan of all things Airdrie.

Donnelly said: “I signed for Airdrie when I was 15 from Cairn Park Boys Club in the town. You could say Airdrie United are my very local side as I live five minutes away from the stadium. Jamie also played for Cairn Park and he won a Scottish Football League Goal of the Month Award last season as well as scoring a great goal against Beith Juniors in the Scottish Cup.”

Bain’s strike against the Ayrshire Junior side was a late, late leveller and brought wild, yet good natured celebrations, onto the side of The Diamonds artificial pitch as fans joined in with the players’ celebrations.

Airdrie's Ryan Donnelly (centre) gets away from Beith duo Martin McGarvey and Derek McCulloch (right)Donnelly joked: “I was right in there with Jamie when he was celebrating and it was a bit strange as we knew that some of the fans that joined in were our pals from about the town. It was good fun but mind you, he still gets ribbed about his celebration that started it all off.

“Kieran and John also live close by so our team has a local core. We have all proved that you will get a chance here that you maybe would not get at other clubs.”

The goal-grabber added: “I don’t think we get any more backing because we are local boys. I got some positive shouts on Saturday but that may have been just because I scored twice against Albion Rovers in a derby game.”

Airdrie is certainly at the heart of Donnelly who said: “I am also really lucky in that I work in a Builders Merchant in the town and getting to training and a game is not a problem.”

Donnelly talked through his fledgling career saying: “I joined the youth system and then had one season at Under-17 level and two seasons at Under-19 level. I was actually released by the previous Manager Kenny Black last summer however, when Jimmy Boyle was appointed, he got in touch to see if I wanted to come back.

Jimmy Boyle“I did not even give Jimmy time to finish the question and I took no time to think about the question as I was really keen to come back. It has been the right decision and I have really enjoyed working with Jimmy, Alan ‘Nipper’ Lawrence and Paul Jack although they do work us hard.”

As well as the local nature of his team-mates and the energy he gets from the coaching staff, Donnelly is enjoying playing alongside his experienced team-mates of David Lilley, Paul Lovering and Derek Holmes.

He said: “I have played alongside Paul since I came into the first team and he has always been great but we have added a couple of other older heads this season as well. They coach the younger players all the time on the park and I have learnt a lot from them.

“I played with Scott Gemmill last season and he was a great help to me and big ‘Homer’ is like that as well. You get help from him as he talks you through games and tells you what runs to make and what runs not to make. I used to spend all my time running and chasing things and ended up with little energy. Derek has definitely helped me know which runs to make and which ones not to make.”

Donnelly had been a midfielder in his early youth days before being pushed up front in his second season at Under-19 level and he built on that when his first team chance came as he explained: “I got my chance in pre-season training to play up front just over a year ago and I did okay. I didn’t get the chance to play with Tony Watt at youth level but the two of us played up front in the first team before he moved on to Celtic and that again shows you that you get a chance here.”

The youngster burst onto the scene in a Second Division game against Ayr United last August when he entered the field of play with The Diamonds two goals down and little time left.

Ryan Donnelly scores Airdrie's equiliser against Ayr United (Aug 2010)Donnelly said: “I came on in that game as a substitute and earned a penalty and then scored the equaliser right near the end.

“After that, I was in the starting eleven, on the bench and then not included at all which was quite frustrating but towards the end of the season, I started to get involved more. I scored four times in the last six games and I have already matched my entire total for last season.”

Dedication over the summer has helped Donnelly shine this season as he explained: “I worked hard on my fitness and strength during the summer and that has helped me so far this season. That has led to me feeling stronger and my confidence improved as a result and that led to me trying more things to improve my technical ability and I reckon that has got better as well.”

Donnelly is making no rash predictions about how far he will beat his total from last season saying: “I am not really into targets and just take things one game at a time.”

The frontman is also not making any rash predictions over how well his side will do either saying: “If we can keep everyone fit and keep playing consistently, we are good enough to do well but everyone will be saying that in the Second Division. No club has been that consistent yet especially when you consider that Dumbarton went to East Fife and won 6-0 and then lost their next game 4-3 at home to Arbroath.”

The progress made by Donnelly, who turns 20 later this month, has been rewarded with a new contract that ties him to the club until December 2013 and he was delighted to put pen to paper saying: “I was really pleased to have my contract extended as it shows that the club have faith in me. A bit like signing in the first place, I did not even have to think about it when I was offered the new deal.”

The Diamonds face a demanding few days starting off against League leaders Arbroath at Gayfield on Saturday and then their Scottish Communities League Cup Third Round tie against SPL Dundee United at their Excelsior Stadium home on Tuesday night.

Donnelly said: “Arbroath have done well to get to the top of the table and their home record is really good however, we will go up there and work hard and try and get a result ahead of the Dundee United game.

“The United game has the whole club buzzing as it is a chance to show what we can do against a really strong side. They are expected to beat us but we will give it our best shot and you never know, we may just get a result.”

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