Sometimes you need to leave in order to come back.
That was the view taken when Liam Kelly made one of the toughest decisions of his life, ripping up his contract with his beloved Rangers during the summer.
Previously he had declared that he would stay at Ibrox for as long as they wanted him but, following a campaign as understudy to Wes Foderingham and Jak Alnwick last term, he had a change of heart.
It was time to play. At 22 it was time to take the experience of being No.3 at Rangers – as well as loan spells with East Fife and Livingston – and claim the gloves in his own right somewhere. Kelly’s decision has been vindicated. He returned to Livingston, where he won the League One title in 2017, and has handled the step up to Premiership football magnificently, helping the high-flying Lions register five clean sheets in their last five games.
A penalty save to deny Hearts’ Steven Naismith and ensure Gary Holt’s men escaped Tynecastle with a point last weekend summed up his season to date. However, more than any other, today’s fixture is one that Kelly would have had marked on the calendar after 14 years in Govan.
“This is exactly why I left; to play against teams as good as Rangers. If I ever want to play for Rangers, then I had to leave Rangers – if that makes sense to people,” Kelly, pictured, explains. Evidently his desire to, one day, be Ibrox No.1 still burns brightly.
“But with the goalkeepers at Rangers, the opportunities were never likely to come. I was there for 14 years – from when I was eight through to that summer there – but I knew I had to leave. I had a year left in my contract and I’m thankful the club let it happen.
“Everybody I spoke to all told me it was time to go. Guys like Wes Foderingham and [Rangers goalkeeping coach] Jim Stewart all agreed that it was time for me to go and play somewhere – I wouldn’t get that at Rangers. That isn’t a fault of anyone there, it’s just a case of: can they afford to throw a goalie who has only ever played for East Fife and Livingston straight into the Rangers first-team? I’m not sure.”
As well as winning the third tier with Livi, Kelly was also between the sticks when East Fife won the League Two title in 2016. Indeed, last season was the first campaign he had not spent out on loan garnering first-team experience since that spell in Fife. However, he is quick to dismiss the notion that it was a wasted season in his development.
“I got a lot stronger last year, I was on the bench a lot more than I expected because Wes [Foderingham] was injured at the end of the season and Jak [Alnwick] was injured at the start,” he continued. “So I was experiencing things like the Old Firm game from the bench, which will give an idea what it would be like to be involved in games like that.”