Kelly leads charge as young guns shake up Lilies
NIALL Kelly's spectacular Allianz league debut for Kildare last Sunday was not the first time a teenager has stolen the limelight for the Lilywhites in the last 12 months.
Remember last year's Division 2 league final against Tyrone, when 19-year-old Padraig Fogarty caused a sensation by scoring 0-3 off the bench?
When Kieran McGeeney named his team last week, Cathal McNally was named to make his league debut at centre-forward, having done particularly well in the O'Byrne Cup.
But few were surprised when Kelly (19) was named as his late replacement, or by his audacious performance, rolling out of tackles and scoring 0-3 – the UCD student has long been a rising star with Athy.
Also notable against Donegal was the assured performance of two more of the Lilies' young guns: Daniel Flynn (19) and last year's minor captain Paddy Brophy (18), who replaced Seanie Johnston.
Less than a year ago Flynn and his younger brother Luke were starring for St Mary's Edenderry on their run to All-Ireland colleges glory.
Like Kelly, the quick and powerful Johnstownbridge teenager is regarded locally as a super prospect.
Back in 2009, Paul Cribbin, another teenager with a fantastic engine, was St Mary's breakthrough star when they reached the Hogan Cup final.
He was snapped up by Collingwood in Australia, and his return home last summer was a big boost. That Cribbin isn't even involved with the county seniors at present is noteworthy.
He's concentrating his energies with the Kildare U-21s, who also include Tommy Moolick, Sean Hurley and Darroch Mulhall, all part of a talented bunch who lost to Dublin in the 2009 Leinster minor final replay.
That minor team also included Fogarty, Eoin Doyle and Cian Reynolds, who has switched to play for Leitrim this year.
McGeeney has taken over the U-21 management this season but has always preached caution about throwing young players into the senior ranks too early.
He regards minor and U-21 as 'development grades' and has noted that underage titles are not imperative for winning 'Sam'.
One look at the reigning All-Ireland champions proves him correct. While everyone points to the senior springboard that U-21 success has given Tyrone, Cork and Dublin, Donegal have had little underage success.
The last time Donegal won an All-Ireland U-21 title was in 1987, and their Ulster U-21 in 2010 was their first in 15 years. And like Kildare, they have never won an All-Ireland minor. Kildare's only All-Ireland U-21 was back in 1965, they last won the Leinster U-21 in 2008 and they haven't won a Leinster minor since 1991.
Like Donegal, they play in a province which is particularly competitive at underage, yet while their teenagers may not be grabbing underage titles or headlines, their clubs and development squads have become a decent conveyor belt.
It is far too early to say how many of their young guns will ever make a serious senior breakthrough. But the arrival of new selector Jason Ryan seems to have brought new creativity to the Kildare attack and, as Kelly showed, some of their youngsters look well placed to exploit those opportunities.