FROM THE Leinster Senior League to League One in England and -- maybe -- onto the Champions League.
That's the remarkable journey for former Crumlin United striker Dean Kelly, 25, who has just finished a spell with Oldham Athletic. He is now likely to sign for a League of Ireland side, with Shamrock Rovers favourites to land his signature for the 2011 season when the Hoops will defend their League of Ireland title and also play in the Champions League qualifiers for the first time.
Kelly is one of a rare group of players who made the leap straight from the non-league soccer scene in Ireland to the professional game in England.
Twelve months ago, Kelly was playing for Crumlin United but last summer the striker got the chance of a trial at League One side Oldham.
They liked what they saw, signed Kelly on a six-month deal and put him into the first team straight away, with Kelly making his Oldham debut under boss Paul Dickov against Tranmere in August.
But after 13 games (and one goal) for the Latics, Kelly has left the club and is back home in Dublin, swapping the life of a full-time pro in England for a return to the day job with Dublin City Council.
"I'm glad I got the chance to play abroad. Not many lads from junior football get the chance to play at a level like League One in England, but being honest I'm happy to be back home now," Kelly told the Herald.
"It was a great experience. To play in places like Southampton and Tranmere was great for me, but I'm back in Dublin now and looking to the next stage of my career.
"I had a few offers of trials from clubs in England, in League One and League Two, but I think the League of Ireland is the best move for me now. I've had offers from a few LOI clubs but Shamrock Rovers is the most interesting prospect for me now and hopefully I'll be able to sign for them before the end of the week. They're in the Champions League next summer and the chance to play in a competition like that is a big attraction for me," added Kelly, who played for Tolka Rovers before joining Crumlin.
"In the long term I'd like to go to Australia to play and work there. I know a lot of Irish players are heading there so maybe in the future I'll head there too," he said.
"The main problem at Oldham was that I wasn't playing, and when you're my age all you want to do is play. I don't care if you're playing for Crumlin United or earning £10,000 a week in England, if you're not playing then there's no point in being there.
"I just knew from the way things were going at Oldham that I wasn't really in the manager's plans so I decided to come home. I could have stayed on for another few weeks -- my contract isn't up until the end of this month -- but I felt I wasn't going to be in the team so there was no point in being there."
League of Ireland players are quite the in-thing in the English league now -- 33 ex-LOI players are on the books of English clubs this season -- but not many players get the chance to move to England from the non-league scene here.
"I was lucky to get the move," says Kelly, a junior international. "Paul Dickov was the manager who signed me but it was his assistant, Gerry Taggart, who saw me first. Taggart had heard about me, watched me in a few games for Crumlin and asked me over on trial. I did well and got a contract.
"I think I did well over there and I was certainly not out of place. I played against Premier League teams like Blackburn in the reserves and did well. I don't think they'd have given me 14 games if I wasn't up to it.
"I scored for them as well. We beat Plymouth 4-2 in October and I got one of the goals.
"But in the end I wasn't getting enough games for me to stay on. I don't think I had a proper chance to prove myself. And Oldham have just signed two players on loan from Sunderland so they were going to get games ahead of me."
So Kelly has said goodbye to the life of a full-time pro in England with a club who were in the Premier League as recently as 1994, and gone back to work after a career break from his employers.
"My job is with Dublin City Council, doing building work like clearing sites and knocking down dangerous buildings," he says.
"It's a pity England didn't work out in the long run but I'm lucky to have a job and be able to play football too."