A glove affair - How Rangers icon Allan McGregor left his mark on Motherwell's Liam Kelly
McGregor’s continued excellence as he approaches his 39th birthday at the end of this month comes as no surprise to Kelly, who came through the Rangers youth system during the veteran goalkeeper’s first spell at the club.
Simply the best
“It’s just how he conducts himself,” says Kelly. “He is the first in the gym every single morning ahead of training. It’s wee things like that people might not expect from Allan McGregor, but that maybe shows why he’s still playing for Rangers now.
“When I first went full-time at Rangers, he was the goalkeeper for the first team and he was really good with all the young goalies then.
“It was just small things that he would never mention. For instance, if you came out to training with an old pair of gloves on and he looked at them and didn’t like them, he’d tell you to go and take a pair out of his locker.
“It doesn’t seem much, but it’s massive when you’re so young. It was probably nothing to him, he’s probably got hundreds of gloves, but to be wearing a pair of Allan McGregor’s gloves back then was unbelievable for me as a kid.
“After I left Rangers to go to Livingston, I remember it was an unbelievable experience for me when we beat them the day Dolly Menga scored the only goal of the game (in September 2018) - to have trained with Greegsy when I was so young and then to win a game against him.
“But Greegsy is the best there is. I don’t think anyone could argue with that. If you could have half or even a third of the career that he has had, then that would be unbelievable.”
From West Lothian to West London
Kelly was unable to make a first team breakthrough at Rangers before his move to Livingston where his excellent form earned him both a call-up to the Scotland squad and his move to Queens Park Rangers under former Ibrox boss Mark Warburton in 2019.
The 24-year-old has lost his first team place at the English Championship club to Swiss ‘keeper Seny Dieng, prompting his temporary return to Scotland with Motherwell.
“Going to QPR was a life-changing move for me,” says Kelly. “I have really enjoyed my time there. I got injured at an unfortunate time but although I managed to get back into the team initially, this season Seny has come in and played really well.
“I don’t want to sit on the bench, so put that to Mark Warburton and thankfully he allowed me to come to Motherwell. I still have two and a half years left on my contract at QPR, so I’m not finished there. But my focus is on Motherwell at the moment.”
Hoping to catch Steve Clarke’s attention
Kelly also has one eye on a recall to the Scotland squad ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 finals this summer.
“That is maybe a long term ambition but I am not going to get in any Scotland squad if I don’t play well here,” he adds.
“So there is no point in me saying I am going to get in the Scotland squad and then end up not having a good game at the weekend. First and foremost I need to train and play well for Motherwell. If I get picked for Scotland, then I get picked for Scotland. It is not something I can control. I can control what I do here, though, by trying to do my very best.
“Obviously I am aware that Declan Gallagher and Stephen O’Donnell have been picked for Scotland while playing for Motherwell but being honest, that was not in my thinking. I was just grateful Motherwell gave me an opportunity to play games again.”
Reunion with Morelos
Kelly now faces the considerable challenge of shutting out his former Rangers squad-mate Alfredo Morelos who returned to form with a double against Aberdeen at Pittodrie last weekend.
“Aye, that was perfect timing - he must have known I was coming back up the road,” laughs Kelly.
“I was at Rangers for most of my life until I was 22, so I know Alfredo and have a lot of friends there. It’s nice to see them doing really well this season, they are the best team in the country.
“There was always a lot of quality in the group but, being really honest, I think Steven Gerrard has changed everything at Rangers since I was there.
“He came in just as I left. There were top players like James Tavernier and Ryan Jack there at the end of my time but Celtic had Brendan Rodgers at the time and the gap was massive.
“So I’d be lying if I said I could see them where they are now, 20-odd points clear at the top.
“There’s obviously been unbelievable recruitment and tactics, everything they do seems to be top level, so that’s obviously why they are in the position that they are.
“I’m really happy to see them where they are. There’s a lot of good people there on the staff still and all the backroom team, I’m still close with a lot of them. But that doesn’t change the fact though that I want to beat them on Sunday.”
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