Brophy hails the virtues of youth in Athy revival
A MINOR success story could yield major rewards for Athy in their Kildare SFC final clash with Carbury tomorrow.
Athy have been out of the limelight since their last appearance in a senior final in 1995, but an underage development plan, put in place 10 years ago, has catapulted the club back to the top table.
They won a third successive minor championship last year and also squeezed in an U-21 title. Crucially, they have translated that success on to the senior stage to make steady progress in the championship.
Progress to the last eight in 2009 was followed up with a last-four appearance in 2010, and tomorrow they return to the final.
Mark Brophy is the Athy manager and was part of that 1995 side that lost the final to Clane. Since then, success has been thin on the ground.
"We've been senior all along but it's fair to say we've been in the doldrums. There were a couple of quarter-final appearances but we never really threatened," Brophy said.
"So about 10 years ago the club put the underage structures in place and began taking the coaching side of things seriously in conjunction with the schools. People put in a lot of time and effort and thankfully now it is paying off for us."
Apart from long-term injury victim David Dunne, the club captain, Athy have a clean bill of health and they have managed to bring the majority of their minor stars through to senior level, something that can prove difficult.
"It's easy to lose players around that age. I suppose there are other distractions for them, but these lads didn't have to wait around too long for their chance at senior level so you can keep them interested that way.
"You can see lads drift away if they have to wait a few years to get their chance. We brought them straight through so we have the most of them.
"At one stage in the semi-final, we had 12 fellas playing who were U-21s and we have brought a couple of last year's minors into the squad this time too, so they know they'll get a chance."
Darroch Mulhall and Cian Reynolds have starred for Athy in this championship, but Brophy was quick to praise the influence of Mick Foley, who was nominated for an All Star award this week for his performances at full-back for Kildare.
"He's versatile but he lines out mostly at centre-back for us and he's a very important player for us. He sets a great example to the younger lads and when he talks people listen."
Carbury are managed by Stephen Darby, who is one of the names being touted for the vacant Offaly manager's position. The Rhode man guided his native club to three Offaly titles in a row while he was also part of the famous 1982 Faithful side that stopped Kerry's 'drive for five' when his brother Seamus scored the decisive goal.
Eoghan and Morgan O'Flaherty are their key performers and even though Athy recorded a championship win over Carbury in an earlier round, Brophy predicts a tighter game this time around.
"We got a goal that put a gloss on the result but it was a good open game. They are a big side but are a good footballing side so hopefully the game will be an entertaining one."
The semi-finals saw Athy beat 2009 champions St Laurence's while Carbury took out 2008 winners Celbridge. The clash with St Laurence's was a local derby and since then Athy has been buzzing as the club make their long-awaited return to the big stage.
"It has been a long time coming for us," Brophy said. "Hopefully there'll be even more excitement around the town on Sunday evening."