McGeeney's Lilies can go all the way, insists Rainbow
ANTHONY Rainbow had one opponent he just could not beat -- Old Father Time.
The Kildare legend, who served his county with distinction for 19 seasons, bowed out last November without the All-Ireland medal he would love to have won.
And as the Lilywhites prepare to face Dublin in Sunday's Leinster semi-final, Rainbow still feels that ultimate glory is possible for Kieran McGeeney's team.
His former comrades have travelled a long road under McGeeney over the last three years and a few big boxes remain to be ticked: beating a couple of the top teams in the country, and, of course, winning silverware.
Speaking at Croke Park yesterday, Rainbow's appearance belied his 39 years, and though he has retired, he remains optimistic for this weekend and beyond.
That said, is it time Kildare took a couple of big scalps to help the evolution of the team?
"That's a good point. We haven't beaten a Cork or Tyrone over the last three or four years and this could be the year that we will do that, possibly starting with Dublin on Sunday," he said.
"The team has grown in belief over the last few years and it's getting stronger and stronger each year. That goes down to what Kieran has instilled in the players. Dublin would be in the top three or four and I guarantee Kildare aren't that far off.
"A lot of people seem to forget we were in an All-Ireland semi-final last year and a quarter-final the two years before that. Not too many teams can boast that record.
"We have moved on. In our first year with Kieran, we got to an All-Ireland quarter-final and last year we got to a semi-final, so who is to say we won't get to an All-Ireland final this year and even win it?
"You can see that progress and the mental strength is getting better and better every year."
Mental and physical strength, stamina, ambition and scoring ability are qualities that Kildare possess in abundance.
The challenge is to translate these attributes into results, so there's plenty of pressure bearing down on manager and players.
It's a price Rainbow believes the squad should be happy to pay.
"With progress, pressure comes," he said. "There are always pressures on inter-county teams and players. For amateur sportsmen, they seem to get pressure from every angle. There's the media, their own supporters, the manager. But that's part of the game as well."
Dublin v Kildare could be viewed as the 'real' Leinster final by the general public as Carlow play Wexford in the other semi-final, but Rainbow doesn't expect complacency.
"Whoever wins on Sunday will definitely be favourites for the Leinster final, but Carlow or Wexford will have something to say on that," he said.
Rainbow won two Leinster medals in eight final appearances with Kildare during his career, and they are prized possessions. He, for one, does not believe in undervaluing the Leinster championship.
"A provincial title is a big honour to win. I think Laois, ourselves and Westmeath have proven that over the last 10 to 15 years under Mick O'Dwyer and Paidi O Se," he said.
"It's always nice to win a provincial title, but the first job is to get over Dublin on Sunday and get into the final."