Published: 05:00, 14 October 2021
Danny Leonard is the odd one out at Dartford - but he’s hoping to put that right this Saturday.
Leonard is the only first-team regular yet to play in the first round of the FA Cup.
Darts visit lower-league AFC Sudbury this weekend knowing victory in the fourth qualifying round could see them land a plum tie against a Football League giant.
The romance of the FA Cup is not lost on former Gillingham youngster Leonard. Having seen his boyhood idols Tottenham face non-league Marine last term, anything is possible in the world’s most famous cup competition.
“If we win then it will be the furthest that I’ve gone personally,” said Leonard.
“The manager went round the dressing room and asked each person, and I think everyone else had reached the first round. I was the only one that didn’t put my hand up.
“If we can progress it will be a big achievement for me on a personal note but as a club it will be very good as well.
“Everyone gets excited about which teams you can play against. We played Maidstone and now we’ve got AFC Sudbury, but the winners this weekend could be playing a team that were in the Premier League two or three seasons ago in the next round.
“It’s crazy but who knows what can happen?
“I did my scholarship at Gills and was there for quite a few years before that. I’m a Tottenham supporter so that would be a dream, but it would also be great to play against Gillingham.
“I spent a long time there from when I was really young, that’s where I started. They were good to me and I owe a lot to them for how I progressed.”
The FA Cup is still a significant competition for Leonard - not least because it was where Darts boss Steve King first spotted him 12 months ago when his then-Sheppey side were knocked out at Eastbourne.
Part of the team that had beaten National League South Welling in the previous round, Leonard caught King’s eye at Priory Lane and he kept tabs on him before securing his signature this summer.
“I enjoyed some good away days at Herne Bay and then at Sheppey we beat Welling in the FA Cup and played well at Eastbourne, that was when Kingy came and watched me,” recalled Leonard, who spent two years with Southern Counties East Sheppey.
“I had a good game but unfortunately we did lose.
“After the season stopped, we were one of the only teams playing games at Sheppey as they organised a post-lockdown tournament. That helped me get this move, I was playing well and people were coming to watch.
“I was aware of interest from a couple of other clubs but nothing concrete so I was glad to get it done here.
“I didn’t know a lot about this league, managers, players, anything really. As soon as other players got the idea that I was being looked at to move here they were pleased for me and were trying to convince me to come here.
“I’ve loved every second of it and I’m just hoping to push on even further.
“I loved it at Sheppey. I was playing well and scored goals both seasons I was there, but as soon as a club like Dartford comes in for you, you can’t turn it down.
“You have to have the ambition to push on, if not then there’s no point.
“I’m happy to be here and who knows where we can go?”
Leonard has looked right at home with Dartford. His brilliant wing play, accurate crossing and link-up play with top scorer Ade Azeez has already caught the eye in the team’s unbeaten start to the campaign.
He’s already felt an improvement in his game but knows he has to keep progressing as defenders in National League South find out more about him.
“It was always going to be a big ask for me stepping up,” he said.
“The fans and the boys have been great, they’ve supported me the whole way through and been right behind me.
“The management team let me do my stuff out on the pitch which hopefully I’ve been doing. In training, things like one or two touch have improved me, and they give me little pointers after games on how to improve.
“I scored a lot of goals when I was at Sheppey and that is something I want to bring here. But when you see a striker like Ade scoring goals for fun at the moment then all you want to do is keep putting the ball in the box for him. I’m pleased with what I’m doing now.
“I’m unknown to defenders and they’re unknown to me so there’s a bit of a fearless factor.
“I just go and play against them, I’m going to get people who know how I play or others who just come out and play against me.
“If I can put the fear into them rather than me fearing them then I can get one up on them.
“We keep working in training, left-foot goals, right-foot goals. I’m working on my crossing and coming inside or outside.
“I don’t want to become predictable - defenders will watch videos now - and I want to mix my game up and that’s where I need to strengthen my game.
“That was my aim, not just to come here and sit on the bench or just to learn. I wanted to come here and make an impact straight away and get in the team.
“I think I’ve done that so far but it’s just a start and I have to keep going every game as there are players sitting on the bench that can come on and change a game.”