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Rainbow fights on for kildare

HE turned 38 last October. He made his senior championship debut in 1992. He's been an inter-county footballer for half his life. And he hasn't gone away, you know.

As another year dawns, Anthony Rainbow has committed himself to the Kildare cause once more, for what promises to be his 19th SFC campaign -- and he hasn't come back with modest ambitions either.

Gaelic football's answer to Peter Pan won't be content with a few late cameos here and there. Nor has he returned to play the role of Kieran McGeeney's dressing room elder statesman, there to inspire and cajole the younger generation who get on with the actual business of playing.


Speaking to the Evening Herald, ahead of Sunday's seasonal opener at home to UCD in the O'Byrne Cup (Newbridge, 2.0), Rainbow made it clear that he's aiming for a lot more game time this year than last.

Then, he was left playing catch-up after recovering from a winter shoulder injury, and was duly confined to a few brief run-outs in the closing stages of Kildare's championship victories over Wexford, Laois and Wicklow.

"I had a shoulder injury this time last year, I got an operation and it had me out for about six months," Rainbow recalled. "And I thought to myself, I didn't do myself justice last year because I missed half the season, and I might as well give it another crack to see how it goes.

"I suppose a lot of people think: 'Oh, he's not going back for another season!' A lot of people in and around Kildare are probably thinking: 'Well, do you think he's had enough at this stage, is he holding back some young guys that could be there rather than him?' But the way I look at it, age is just a number.

"I think if you have the hunger for the football and you have the fitness and you still have the football ability, definitely give it another shot."

Free of injury, his New Year's resolution is to see more on-field action. "I definitely think so," he confirmed. "Over the past two years, with the type of training that he (McGeeney) has done, I think I'm after getting a yard faster, a lot fitter, a lot stronger than I was, say, three years ago."

This was reflected, he believes, in Suncroft's advance to the Kildare SFC semi-finals, where they eventually fell to Moorefield. It was the club's first such extended run in 12 years.

Equally, it would have been very hard to walk away after Kildare's thrilling, progressive, yet ultimately close-but-no-cigar campaign of 2009.

"It did make it a lot easier to come back, because there is definitely potential within the team to win something this year," he explained.

Harking back to last summer, the veteran defender reflected: "I was actually playing quite well in training, and I thought I might have been pushing for a position, but the team was playing so well. Most of those guys had played O'Byrne Cup, league and championship ... and you couldn't drop them because they played so well in the three competitions."

While the departure of assistant-boss Paul Grimley is a "massive loss", Rainbow believes Kildare remain a close-knit unit that is doubly determined to make up for the one "big disappointment" of '09 -- the lack of tangible silverware.


"We were so close to getting out of Division Two, and then we were so close to winning a Leinster title, and then we weren't far off beating Tyrone in the quarter-final.

"If we just had an extra 5pc in those competitions, definitely we would have got that bit further," he maintained.

That memory will drive on Kildare when they kick off the new season against UCD, weather permitting.

The experimental playing rules will get their first airing in the O'Byrne Cup and, as a member of the committee that devised them, Rainbow is a committed advocate for giving change a go.

"The mark is probably the one that really stands out," he remarked. "I think it will speed up the game, because the game had progressed where you have midfielders who have this talent for catching the ball but, when they come down, most of the time they're blown for over-carrying by the referees because of this swarm tactic."

And he disputes that the mark could have the inadvertent effect of slowing up the game. "If you have a situation where, say, Dermot Earley takes a big ball at midfield; kicks a long ball into Johnny Doyle or Alan Smith; he catches the ball and over the bar. When do you see that in Gaelic football? I think that's going to benefit the game," he concluded.