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Football crazy after all these years


Allenwood’s Johnny Doyle

Allenwood’s Johnny Doyle

Allenwood’s Johnny Doyle

The morning after the night before, Johnny Doyle and some other Allenwood footballers are at the banks of the River Slate.

The warm glow from the first-round Kildare IFC championship win over Two MileHouse on Saturday night flowed through them but the aches of the previous day's exertions were starting to take hold too.

Doyle eased his 42-year-old frame into the river to let the cold water do its thing. Operating around midfield, he played 60 minutes on Saturday night, kicking six points against a team fancied to regain the senior status they lost last year.

Around the country there were stories similar to Doyle's. Old dogs refusing to bow to the hard road or father time in the name of service to their club.

In Waterford, Dan Shanahan came off the bench for Lismore for what is his 28th season active with the club in championship. His brother Maurice stole the show with an incredible haul of 2-17, but at 43, and having made his debut in 1993, Dan was still there to help Lismore to a win over Fourmilewater. To give that some context, that was the same year Donegal football star Paddy McBrearty was born.

"I absolutely love being involved," Shanahan told WLR FM last weekend. "I love my club, I love where I come from. If I thought I didn't have something offer, I would step back and play junior or retire."

Doyle sings from a similar hymnsheet. On Monday morning, his recovery continued as he flushed his legs out with a quick 15km spin on the bike punctuated by a cup of tea in his mother's house.

If his talent marked him out as one of the best forwards of his generation, his durability is unparalleled. Doyle never missed a championship game from his Kildare debut in 2000 to when he retired in 2014.

During that time he won an All-Star as a half-forward and was nominated for another at midfield.

And even more remarkably, he hasn't missed a club championship match since he made his debut against Naas in 1996. To give that some context, that game was the same day as Michelle Smith won the last of her four medals at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"I have been lucky with injuries, if you got a bad injury you might come back but it can still leave a scar. But I have never pulled a hamstring or broke a bone in my body. I used to worry a lot when I was younger because when I went in with Kildare, I was just over ten stone.

"And I'd go away and try to put on weight and at that time the big thing was creatine. But I never put on much and I was afraid it was going to hold me back. Eventually I stopped worrying and said 'I am what I am' and as I got on, I think it stood to me. I'm still the same weight I was when I was finishing playing with Kildare. That definitely helps."

Doyle still has the clippings from the 'Leinster Leader' the week after his debut for his club. That day, Ronan Byrne set him up for an open goal. Doyle would play with Byrne's nephew (Johnny) for Kildare almost 20 years later.

"It's mad, 25 years and it flies by," Doyle reflected. "We are in a changing world. It's a world where the internet wasn't there.

He retired from Kildare in 2014 and put all his efforts in with the club. Walking away was never in his plans. Why would it be? And like Shanahan, when his time with the club's first team is up, he'll offer his services to the seconds for as long as his body will allow him.

"When you get to my age, you don't plan much, you just plan for every match," he smiles.

"I'm involved in the club all my life, my Da was chairman and he played for years. The way it is for me is every year is I enjoy it, the body is not too bad injury wise and it's a case of if the manager thinks you have something to offer, that be five minutes at the end of a match or 20 at the start I'm happy enough to do that. And if not I'll play a bit of second team.

"That's the attitude I have taken to it over the last couple of years.

"I'm enjoying playing. I don't play golf. I don't do anything else, it's the only outlet I have really, is playing a bit of ball."