Despite the popular adage, football isn’t always a funny old game. A way of life for so many, the sport can just as easily make or break a player.
One individual who knows the darker side only too well is Mikhail Kennedy; the Shantallow man finally returning to duty for his club side Charlton Athletic over the past few weeks after an horrendous 15-months out with injury.
Many will remember the N Ireland under-21 International coming to Derry City on loan at the start of 2017, a five-month spell he prefers to put behind him.
Unfortunately the striker, who’s currently in talks with Charlton about a new deal for the 2019 season, didn’t get much game time and didn’t score during his time with City, in fact manager, Kenny Shiels, preferred to play the likes of Rory Patterson and Nathan Boyle ahead of him.
Despite Patterson being being absent for most of the season with a broken ankle injury, the young hitman failed to get much game time, but he doesn’t blame anyone and believes he’s a better player and person after that experience.
“It was nobody’s fault - something that just developed over a period of time, but getting a total of 27 minutes football in my first six weeks at the club knocked the stuffing out of me,” he claimed.
“It is, of course, a bugbear for me - as a young Derry lad it was an honour to pull on the ‘Candy Stripe’ jersey with my mum and dad, my uncle Terry and my family all there to watch. I was desperate to do well but just couldn’t get the momentum back in the final few weeks of my loan spell to show what I could do.”
The then 20-years-old may have been hurting as he returned to London in June for Charlton’s pre-season, but little did he know things were about to get worse.
Kennedy hit the net for his parent club in his first game back the following week and was added to the first team squad by manager, Carl Robinson.
He was given a pair of boots by friend and former Celtic winger Tony Watt who was leaving ‘The Valley’ at the same time, but despite the gesture, the new footwear brought the Derryman little fortune.
Shortly afterwards, during a senior squad training session Mikhail landed awkwardly on his knee and knew immediately that something wasn’t right.
“Players get painful knocks all the time but this was very different - I had never felt pain like that,” he explained.
“It was a Sunday afternoon so I was taken home and told to come in for a scan first thing on Monday morning.
“I asked the physio what he thought it was and he told me straight away it looked like and Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
“I wanted to know how long I would be out for if it was that and he told me bluntly that if it was torn, I could forget about football for at least a season.”
After the terrible news was confirmed, Kennedy, admitted it really hit home that he was living in the big bright lights of London, on his own.
“I went home to rest after the scan and the following day got the confirmation I was dreading,” he added.
“I had been living in London since I was 16 but hadn’t noticed that I was alone until that day. It wasn’t self-pity or anything like that; just a realisation that I was on my own in that moment. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.
“I was turning 21 in August and with my surgery confirmed for September 5 I headed back to Derry for a few weeks.”
Despite the operation proving successful, Mikhail was far from out of the woods. He took ill in the days after surgery so fearing an infection he had to steer clear of coming into the club.
“I’m an independent sort of person and I know if my family knew I was confined to bed in a flat on my own for a week, they’d have been straight over,” he added.
“It was a horrible time but on the other hand it has made me much stronger mentally to have come through it.
“I went through a second operation in July this year but I was determined not to let anything drag me down. I left hospital the same night on crutches, determined to stay on my feet and things have been much more positive since then.
“Obviously Lee Bowyer is first team manager at the club now and after my first game back for the under-23’s he named me in the FA Cup squad the following weekend against Doncaster Rovers.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was but to be honest, everyone at Charlton has been fantastic since day one.”
The 22-years-old, who has played four games with Charlton’s U23 side since his come-back and came off the bench on St. Stephen’s Day for Vanarama National League South side Chelmsford City, who he has joined on a one month loan deal from Charlton, insists he keeps up-to-date with events at the Brandywell very regularly and expects visits to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium to continue now that Declan Devine is back in charge.
“I worked under Declan in the Northern Ireland set-up so I know how good a coach he is,” he confirmed.
“I also worked with Paddy McCourt and Mo Mahon in my Foyle Harps days. It’s unreal how big of an opportunity there is now for young players coming into the Derry City set-up with that quality of coaching.”
And as for himself, does he still harbour ambitions of playing in the red and white in the future?
“Yeah 100 per cent, I would love to play for Derry again someday,” he insisted.
“Derry City is my home-town club and every young lad who kicked a ball around Derry dreamed of playing for the team.
“I’m lucky to have had a chance to do it although I have a lot more to offer. Yeah, if the opportunity arises in the future to do it again and the timing works, I’d be a very happy man,” he declared.