Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 17 December 2017

Rainbow in midst of his golden age

Anthony Rainbow will be involved in his 18th Leinster Championship campaign this weekend after making his debut for Kildare in 1992.
Anthony Rainbow will be involved in his 18th Leinster Championship campaign this weekend after making his debut for Kildare in 1992.
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

LIKE Ryan Giggs -- whose cheeky young Manchester United team-mates like to quip, 'Were you playing that day Giggsy?' when reviewing old black and white match footage -- he is well used to the slagging by now.

Photos of Kildare's Leinster-winning teams of the 1930s and '56 decorate the walls of GAA HQ in Newbridge. So when their current players are tucking into their post-training grub, some of his team-mates like to wonder: "Were you a sub that day Rainbow?"

When they're all pumping iron, the young guns also like to ramp up the drum 'n bass while Johnny Doyle and himself, well, they'd be more Christy Moore men. Hell, even team manager Kieran McGeeney likes to point out that he's younger than him!

Anthony Rainbow turned 38 last October and actually made his championship debut the same year as McGeeney -- in 1992. Tomorrow's game with Louth marks his 18th Leinster championship, but this is actually his 20th season as a Kildare senior footballer.

The 2000 All Star wing-back takes all the ageist ribbing with his trademark grin. He was a 19-year-old innocent when he was first called up and, naturally, he got to his first county senior training session early.

Unfortunately he sat in Paddy O'Donoghue's usual spot and the established elder wasn't long giving him a clip in the ear and telling him to shift.

"Your first night is intimidating alright, but it actually wasn't too bad for me because both Glenn (Ryan) and I had been called up from the same minor team (who had lost the Leinster final to Offaly) so I knew him at least," Rainbow recalls.

But my, how things have changed. In the winter of 1990 the few mobile phones in the country were giant bricks sported by so-called 'yuppies'. When the Kildare selectors needed to contact Rainbow, they rang the house and his mother was the answering machine.

Now, hardly a single day passes without him receiving a text from the Kildare management. Apart from football training, he is expected to fit in two to three weights sessions a week.

There's a dome in the K Club, a temporary dressing-room left over after the Ryder Cup, which, largely self-funded, the Kildare team have turned into their private weights room while the county training centre in Hawkfield is being completed.

It is open to them, from 2.0 to 8.0 daily, but they cannot work out without the supervision of conditioning trainer Julie Davis. Rainbow has to keep a detailed weights diary, noting everything he lifts, his improvements and targets.

He also has to keep a diary outlining how he spends each day outside training. Mindful that someone else still pays the GAA's star attractions and puts heavy demands on them away from the game, McGeeney wants their working days monitored too.

The Armagh legend has also introduced boxing to their pre-season training, and even some ju-jitsu for additional flexibility.

A month ago Rainbow, who works as a rep with Tegral, had to use up three days of his annual leave to take part in Kildare's pre-championship five-day training camp at the Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield.

Training camps at resort hotels, martial arts, boxing, training diaries; it is certainly a far cry from Rainbow's induction by Mick O'Dwyer, who famously favours a heavy diet of laps; meat and drink to a teenager who used to run 1500m for his local athletics club.


"We once did 19 or 20 nights in a row, just running laps. I honestly think that was just Micko's way of weeding out the fellas who didn't really want to be there," Rainbow chuckles.

"Everything's much more scientific now, especially since Kieran came in. The emphasis is on strength, power and speed over shorter distances, which probably helps me."

Actually Micko wasn't a complete dinosaur. He had them wading around in the equine exercise pools of several Curragh horse trainers for recovery, long before the dreaded ice-baths became so ubiquitous.

Rainbow first did weights during his 10 years in the army. Micko introduced it at county level around 1997 and all of the five Kildare managers he's served -- Micko (twice), Dermot Earley Snr, Padraig Nolan, John Crofton and McGeeney -- have employed it to a variety of degrees.

The Lilies were actually lucky to get Rainbow at all. At nine and a half stone he looked like a football featherweight that first night.

Micko quipped that he was best suited to be a jockey and Rainbow famously was called ashore with hypothermia during one bitterly cold league game up in Derry in '91. Yet at 19 he had already played, at full-back, for the Irish Youths rugby team.

That led to a call-up to the Leinster U-21 rugby squad, but when an ankle injury delayed that start, in swept Micko and Rainbow's sporting fate was changed forever.

He actually went back playing rugby, with Cill Dara, one winter recently to stay fit, just before McGeeney was appointed. After 20 years of inter-county training he is now three stone heavier but still looks like a whippet and has never let comments about his slightness irk him.

"I was never afraid of going into a tackle and I could always get out of them easily because I was thin and wriggly," he explains.

"I've always felt my size was a positive, not a negative. I always tried to run my opponent into the ground and I don't think my size ever stopped me doing anything I wanted."

His slight physique undoubtedly helped him avoid injury and has contributed to his longevity, but there are still some scars on his passport.

He broke ribs and punctured a lung once; he has had clean-out surgeries on a knee and shoulder; and he couldn't walk up the stairs in 2004 until undergoing a Gilmore's Groin operation with former Meath star Gerry McEntee.

He also had get his thigh slit open just before the 2003 Leinster final after "Johnny Doyle's bony knee" ran into him at training and it ballooned up with a blood clot.

A shoulder injury in the winter of 2008 meant he saw no league action and only came off the bench last summer, a frustrating scenario that would have seen many bow out.


"You get a lot of it alright, people saying, 'He's old, sure there must be younger guys out there, why don't they try those?'" he admits. "But if you're willing and playing well and can still contribute, why not? Age is only a number."

McGeeney obviously hasn't retained him as a sop to Age Action or as a mere dressing-room figureheard. He gave Rainbow a new centre-forward role this year, where he started four league games.

"It's a very demanding position fitness-wise alright, but Kieran is not expecting me to last the full 70 minutes," he reveals. His good mate Ryan now manages Longford and Davy Dalton's son Davy Jr, who travelled on the bus with them during that glorious summer of '98, is now a Meath senior.

Rainbow is now a husband (to Niamh) and father (to two-year-old Max) but family life is still shoe-horned in around football. His only regret is not taking a year or two out to travel, as is now the trend among his younger team-mates.

"Having said that, I have been to Australia, South Africa, Dubai, Thailand, America and only for football I would never have been to those places," he stresses.

"I've been very lucky to have made so many great friends through playing for Kildare and I still love that sense you get after finishing a hard session, that sense of relief and enjoyment. I suppose it's an addiction in a way."

Irish Independent

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