Kelly sculpting stars of future in Lilywhites' production line
KILDARE junior manager Tony Kelly can list 13 players that have come through the ranks with him and gone on to play senior football for the Lilies in the last couple of seasons.
They aren't just panel players either: Tomas O'Connor, Peter Kelly, Hugh Lynch, Ollie Lyons, Tommy O'Neill and Fionn Dowling are just some of the men that have graduated from Kelly's guidance to Kieran McGeeney's side.
"It's a policy we started a few years ago. We use it as a development squad," said Kelly, who has been involved with the Lily juniors since 2004. "It's a natural progression from minor, U-21 to junior to senior, and Kieran has shown he's willing to give players a chance if they show up well for us."
For much of the year, Kildare's juniors trained alongside their senior counterparts and it has been a long road to today's All-Ireland final clash against Cork, with trials starting back last October.
Kelly has injury worries over four of his side and will delay naming his team until the 11th hour -- defender John Browne is almost certainly out, as are cruciate injury victims Mark O'Sullivan and Willie Heffernan.
The Rebels are junior grade specialists. In the semi-final they ousted reigning champions Sligo and before that they beat Kerry in the Munster final.
"They have some players back that won the All-Ireland two years ago and they beat the reigning champions, so they'll be raging hot favourites," Kelly said.
"We played them in a challenge on Easter Monday (which Kildare won 5-8 to 0-17) but that will mean nothing this time around."
Kelly maintains that Kildare's semi-final win over Lancashire wasn't as comfortable as the 0-16 to 2-6 scoreline suggests.
"People dismiss them because they're exiles, but they made things awkward for us. They have big plans for next year so they'll be a team to be watched."
But back to more immediate matters and tonight offers Kildare the chance to end the county's All-Ireland famine.
They have to go back to 1965 for their last success, when their U-21s were All-Ireland champions, while the last time they won an adult crown came in 1928 with the Sam Maguire.
Even if that doesn't happen, the emphasis will continue to fall on producing players for the senior side, and Kelly sees a great chance to expand the competition.
"There is an increasing amount of effort and resources being put into this level of football and it's a grade where some of the best young players can learn their trade," he said.
"Even a back door would help to add some significance. I know the schedule is tight but I believe there is a great opportunity here."