Time to take the Dubs out of Croker
Lily legend Doyle says champs are strong enough without the extra 'home' trump card
There was a massive outpouring of gratitude and appreciation when Johnny Doyle retired recently, but he still doesn't believe that football is only a young man's game or that Kildare will sink without him.
"I never bought into the fact that the body couldn't do it, look at the likes of Ryan Giggs or Tony Browne," observed the Lilywhite legend, who won four All Stars and twice top-scored in the championship, but still never won that elusive All-Ireland.
"If you've a history of injuries, that can take its toll as you go on, but I didn't fall into that bracket, so it never entered my head that the body wasn't able for it," the 37-year-old said.
"It was just the commitment levels that are required, I couldn't give them any more," he stressed.
He rejoined Kildare training during the league, but quickly realised that his burgeoning family commitments – twins born at Christmas, as well as a two-year-old – had changed things irrevocably.
"In fairness to Siobhan (his wife), I put her second for a long time, and I said it was time," he said.
"I probably needed to go back to realise that I couldn't give the commitment that was required or get to the level that I set myself," Doyle said. "When I did go back it sort of galvanised that for me."
Only Colm Cooper's recent cruciate injury attracted such widespread and unequivocal kind words, both from Doyle's peers and the general public.
Local troubadour Christy Moore and politicians were among those who rang him and Doyle was "overwhelmed" by the volume of good wishes.
"It was lovely, but I reckon I'm after doing one of two things," he joked. "Either I codded a lot of people for a long time or there's a lot of people delighted to see me gone!
"I was overwhelmed by the reaction, but I was still happy that it was the right time for me to go," he insisted.
The loss of tireless veterans like himself and Dermot Earley leaves the Lilywhites without a clear leader, but Doyle insists: "Kildare is in a healthier state than some people think.
"Okay, they're disappointed to be relegated, but they played some good football along the way and maybe it was just a bit of inexperience in certain games."
He pointed out that Emmet Bolton, Peter Kelly, Eoin Doyle and Ollie Lyons were all on the injury list during the league.
"They're solid young lads that might have been enough to see you into the middle of the table and all of a sudden it mightn't have been such a bad league.
"It's disappointing to go back to Division 2, but it's not the end of the world," he added. "Look at (Division 2 finalists) Donegal and Monaghan, they'll still have a lot to say in this year's championship."
Doyle believes Kildare are in good hands in manager Jason Ryan but admits they're "on a bit of a learning curve. There are a lot of young lads there who are going to have to learn.
"You can try to pass on your experience, but they've got to go out and learn it themselves. Make the mistakes and bring that forward."
Sharing the same province as the county that no one seems to be able to lay a glove on at the moment doesn't help, he admitted.
"After last weekend you'd say the whole country is a long way away from challenging Dublin," he acknowledged.
"When we were beaten in the championship, you'd often meet people who'd say, 'I think ye need to concentrate on Leinster' and you'd be saying 'we were concentrating on it, we just got beaten!'"
Doyle reckons one thing that might help teams to catch the Dubs on the hop is to take them out of their comfort zone of Jones Road.
"Dublin are definitely a different animal in Croke Park and it's probably a bit unfair that it's their home ground. I read somewhere that Bernard Brogan has never played a championship match outside Croke Park!"
"I remember going to Tullamore to play matches or Portlaoise, and there was a great buzz about.
"Coming to Croke Park when there's only 20,000 here is like playing in front of a hundred people in a club match, there's no atmosphere."
But he accepts that the venue is not Dublin's only trump card, citing their phenomenal work ethic, strength in depth and rigid game plan.
"It (moving them elsewhere) would probably level the playing field a bit, but would it stop Dublin? I'm not so sure."
Doyle believes that only huge self-belief will help teams topple them.
"When you look at their team, and the players that come on and even the players that aren't involved, there could be that bit of a fear factor, the 'are you beaten before you go out?' factor.
"I think teams have just got to change their attitude and say, 'this is a personal battle here, man for man, and if we win enough of those individual battles, we can go a long way.'
"We've seen it throughout history, teams dominating for a period of time.
"Dublin are in a rich vein of form at the moment but who knows what the championship will bring?"
- Doyle helped launch the 'Race the Rás' 2014 yesterday. The breast cancer fundraiser sees former GAA players and amateur cyclists attempting one or more stages of next month's An Post Rás, starting each stage three hours before the main race. A 'Race the Rás' team, led by ex-Olympic cyclist and former Rás winner Ciaran Power, will also compete in the actual race this year. Entries are still open on www.racetheras.com