Walsall Web Fans looks back at Richard O’Kelly’s Walsall playing career which was in two spells. His second spell may only have been short but was most valuable. He signed for The Saddlers from non-league Alvechurch, which also supplied Walsall heroes David Kelly and Ron Green, in October 1979 by manager Alan Buckley but with the team having such a successful season in gaining promotion from the Fourth Division, he had to wait until the opening game of the 1980-1 season before making his debut, in the 0-2 defeat at Reading. He opened his goalscoring account in his third game in a 1-1 draw at Colchester. He went on to become Walsall’s second leading scorer in his first season with seven goals, just two behind Don Penn. He played that season behind Penn and Buckley playing in thirty five games.
His second season saw him grab six goals in thirty eight Division Three games, including a hat trick in th 3-1 home win against Newport in a spell in which he partnered Penn in attack. In 1982-3 he found the net eight games in 35 games but it was the 1983-4 season where he really came into his own, starring in that magnificent Milk Cup run and the league season which saw Saddlers lead the table for a spell.
In that Milk Cup (Football League Cup) campaign, in which he helped Walsall get to the semi final, he netted in the 3-1 First Round tie v. Blackpool, scored in the 4-2 demolition job v. Rotherham at Millmoor in the Quarter Final and it was his cross which forced Phil Neal into netting an own goal at Anfield in the first leg of the Semi. He also banged in twelve league goals from thirty nine games, the majority up front.
The 1984-5 was an even more productive season in finding the net, again mainly up front as he scored sixteen times from thirty five games and he also scored in two Milk Cup games, including the shock 3-0 win at Coventry. His last season in his first spell was destined to be Alan Buckley’s final season too in the Fellows Park hot seat. In that 1985-6 season he was limited to just twenty five starts in league games, mainly behind Nicky Cross and Steve Elliott and scored seven goals whilst in the FA Cup he scored in the 7-3 thrashing of Preston and netted a penalty in the 1-3 defeat to Manchester City in Round Three.
July 1986 saw him transferred to Port Vale for £6,000 where he had the misfortune to suffer a serious knee injury and his appearances were limited. Then in January 1988 came a shock call from Tommy Coakley for Richard to re-sign for Saddlers on a free transfer to use his experience and versatily in the promotion push. In total he played in thirteen games including some as substitute in a variety of positions including three play off games in defence with Andy Dornan out injuried. He also scored against Brentford as he played his part in helping Walsall secure promotion to the Second Division.
Following his release from Walsall that summer he linked up again with Alan Buckley who was by now manager of Grimsby and he went on to notch ten goals in forty nine games for him until he again suffered a serious leg injury which ended his playing career. He has had a variety of coaching jobs over the last twenty years including working for Buckley again at West Brom. Richard O’Kelly was one of Walsall’s most popular players ever, a real joker in the dressing room with his team mates, always had time for the fans and was a manager’s dream with his versatility and adaptability. He was always a deep thinker and it was clear from an early age he would remain in the game. For Walsall his 65 goals from 254 games only tells half a story but that total put him eighth in Walsall Football Club’s all time leading scorers in all competitions down the Fellows Park years.
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