Matty Kennedy Feature
Wingers have always had a big part to play for the Dons, right through the ages.
Whenever Aberdeen have enjoyed success, the wide men have played their part, going back into the mists of time with the likes of Jackie Hather, through to Arthur Graham, Peter Weir and on to more recent times with Jonny Hayes and, of course, Niall McGinn.
Matty Kennedy is very much looking the next in line and hopefully he can be the man to help bring more success.
He recently spoke with the afc programme editor…
A recent arrival at Pittodrie, drafted in from St Johnstone in January and now really settling into life with the Dons. He’s taken a particular liking to the Scottish Cup already, notching his first goal for the club in the tumultuous replay down at Kilmarnock, then producing a man of the match display in Paisley last Saturday night as Aberdeen eased past St Mirren and into the last four.
“Kilmarnock was the first game where I really felt good,” Matty explains. “I thought I played well against them. Then at St Mirren, I felt sharp again and it was great to see the game out and get ourselves to Hampden for the semi-final next month.
“I am feeling good. The manager has given me confidence. He was the main reason I came, as well as the size of the club and the history. It was a no brainer. I want to go to cup finals, I want to win trophies. That is a reason why I joined the club.
“It’s starting to come together now, but there is more and more that I can give to the team. I missed a few games over the winter break. The way that I play, I need to play every game to get my sharpness. As a winger you need sharpness, it’s totally different to just being fit.
“When I arrived, I hadn’t played for a while because nobody was quite sure what was going to happen with this move. I missed the first two games with St Johnstone after the winter break while things were sorted out one way or the other, so by the time I came here, I hadn’t played for a month.
“I am getting my fitness back now and hopefully towards the end of the season I will have chipped in with a few goals and assists. That is the plan anyway and hopefully I will create chances for the boys.
“It does feel that things are coming together now. When I first came, it was a tough period because I wasn’t at the level I wanted and the team was struggling for goals, but I feel we are out of that now and becoming a more confident side that wins games and creates chances.
“Every time you win a game you get more confident and I am sure that will be the case over the final weeks of the season.”
Matty began his career at Kilmarnock, before being transferred to Premier League Everton in August 2012.
“It was a bit mad looking back now, leaving home at 16. I still remember my first day down there and my mum dropping me off at my digs. She was devastated that she was leaving her son at that age! It was tough at the time but it is just the sacrifice that you have to make.
“There are a lot of good players, who are a similar ability to me but have totally faded away because they stayed at home and went out with their friends and had a lot of distractions. I think it helped me going down there, it kept my two feet very firmly on the ground. It kept me focused, they don’t let being a footballer go to your head, which is sadly what happens to a lot of young players. There are players who were better than me that are no longer in the game.
“Sam Cosgrove and Ryan Hedges were at Everton as young players too and like them, I’ve got nothing but praise for their academy. I don’t think you could have a better youth set up. My coaches were David Unsworth, Alan Stubbs and David Weir, all pretty good players!
“They were strict on and off the park. I remember me and a few of the boys at the digs were messing about one night, just at the dinner table, and the landlady was not happy. We had a game the next day, so Alan Stubbs dropped us all! That is how strict it was. Little things like that make you grow up a bit quicker but it was just their way of looking after you and trying to make you a better person.”
Matty was loaned out to Tranmere Rovers, Milton Keynes Dons, and Hibernian, before being sold on to Cardiff City in February 2015 where he was initially a regular before going to Port Vale on loan in January 2016, then Plymouth Argyle a year later.
“I think of all my loan spells, Plymouth was probably my favourite. Derek Adams was my manager there and I got on very well with him. He helped me a lot. My season there, we got promoted at the end of it and that was probably my best spell in football, probably my most enjoyable spell. I could not have asked for a better loan spell than that.
“The start of the next season, I went to Portsmouth on loan for the season. I played 33 games for Portsmouth that season. I was one of the main players there. There are potentially a massive club.
They have 19,000 fans every week and they are trying to make the stadium bigger to get more people in as there are a lot of fans who can’t get tickets.
“I think that’s one thing about my career, at Everton, at Cardiff and Portsmouth, there was always pressure there.
“There was a pressure playing at Plymouth too, as we were trying to get promoted. Hopefully that experience will help me with my career at Aberdeen because you can feel the expectations there are around this club.
“I can handle the pressure. I’m confident so I don’t mind a bit of pressure. I won’t shy away. I’ll do my best in every game and the pressure doesn’t faze me. I want to prove I’m a good player, create chances for my team-mates and score goals.”
Matty came back to the Scottish game when he joined St Johnstone in July 2018 and enjoyed a good spell there. “St Johnstone did a lot for me, as did Tommy Wright. I wanted to play every minute. Tommy was great for me, he was a really big part of me going there and I enjoyed working with him day in, day out. But it was time to move on.
“When I was at St Johnstone, I wanted to get a move to a big club after doing well there. When Aberdeen made the move, I wanted to come here. The manager showed a lot of faith in me, so I am delighted to be here. I am happy and enjoying my football.
“All the staff have been brilliant with me, and the players and the fans. Everything off the field has gone well so far. On the field we would liked to have picked up some more points, but I think we will do that between now and the end of the season. It’s an exciting few months ahead with a semi-final to look forward to and work to do to finish third in the league.
“It would be great to qualify for Europe. I’m 25, I feel I’m coming into the best year of my career, so those challenges are something I want. I’m delighted to have signed a long term contract here and I think Aberdeen will see the best of me. At the start of next season I have three years ahead of me at this football club and I am really looking forward to showing what I can do.
“The fact Aberdeen have shown that level of commitment to me, it makes you feel wanted, you feel at home, you get the chance to properly settle in. You can focus totally on your football and that is maybe something I have not been able to do so far in my career a lot of the time, I was always thinking about having to move on with all the loan deals. This stability can only benefit me.
“Hopefully I can do the business here. The plan is for me to show my true potential at this club. I could have stayed down south before I moved to St Johnstone, but I had been down there from the age of 16 to about 23. I decided I wanted to come home and the fact that I am home I feel that I am happier. I know that Aberdeen is still a few hours from the Glasgow area, but Scotland is home. I am also sure I can benefit from the fantastic facilities here.
“It would be nice if playing here could help me get more involved for Northern Ireland too. There are a lot of good players, established players in the squad, where I am quite new to the group. I can’t sit here and say I should be in the squad but I want to be in the squad. It would be a great honour for me to be involved with the national team and to make my debut.
“Niall has something like 70 caps, which is a fantastic achievement. He has been involved in a lot of games at that level. Niall plays the same position as me, so hopefully watching him day in day out, I can learn from him and he can help me play international football one day.
“Confidence is a big thing for a winger. I do think being a winger is one of the hardest places to play on a football pitch. As a centre-midfielder or a full-back, you can work your way into the game.
“I’m not saying it an easy job but as a winger you have to go and create something. You might not have touched the ball for 20 minutes, you might not be having a good game, but you’re still expected to produce something.
“There’s no doubt that when you are confident, you do play better. For me, that confidence comes from my fitness. That is what has been key for me these past few weeks, getting that fitness and sharpness back so I am at the top of my game and then the confidence will come from that.
“The cup run is helping. The Kilmarnock game was incredible and it was nice to contribute my first goal for the club too. Then last Saturday, we knew it would be a different game at St Mirren, more a grind in the conditions.
“We went there to do a job, to get to the next round of the cup and we did that. I was delighted with the performance of the boys and to get to the win. I have never been to Hampden, so I am delighted to get there.
“The first 15 or 20 minutes I thought that we played some really good football considering the weather and the pitch. After that, I thought that we played well in spells. There were also spells where the ball was in the air and there was a lot of 50/50s. In the cup, it doesn’t matter how you play; we got into the next round of the cup and that’s the main thing.
“The fans went there in their numbers in terrible weather and supported the boys to the final whistle. Fair play to them, it was a long way to go, but we got the result for them. Now we want to try and get through the next round and have a cup final to play in. A lot of boys don’t get to cup finals in their whole career, so when the opportunity is there, you have to try and grab it.
“We are good enough and, on our day, we can beat anyone in the league. But we have to prove it.”