Monday 22 January 2018

Class of 2013 finally finding their groove to provide real impetus for Kildare

Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

One unwanted sequence is destined to end in Croke Park tomorrow afternoon when Kildare and Galway meet in the Allianz FL Division 2 final.

Galway's 16-year wait for a Croke Park win is routinely highlighted, each time they step back into headquarters. All-Ireland quarter-finals, league finals and semi-finals and qualifiers have slipped through their grasp in the intervening period since they flipped Meath in spectacular fashion in the 2001 All-Ireland final.

For Kildare, just beating Galway has been a task too great for them in modern times. Even since their 1998 All-Ireland final and 2000 All-Ireland semi-final defeats, they have repeatedly found themselves in the slipstream of the Tribesmen when they've met in league matches.

Pitched together in the old Division 1B for four years between 2005 and 2008, Kildare lost each time, twice by one-point margins.

When they met in 2012, a match to effectively decide who joined Tyrone in jumping to Division 1, it required a late, late Johnny Doyle penalty to salvage a draw that looked so unlikely for so long. Two years ago, Kildare were already relegated to Division 2 when they lost again; last week promotion was already secured.

The 1998 defeat will always sting hardest in the Kildare psyche but the galling nature of their 2013 All-Ireland U-21 semi-final defeat must rank right up there in terms of lost opportunities.

Having won a Leinster title impressively, 19 wides against Galway in Tullamore effectively signed their own death warrant. Over 60 minutes, it was a remarkable tally.

When Galway obliged with their second All-Ireland title in three years a few weeks later, it only served to compound the empty feeling that arguably Kildare's best underage team in recent times had left a major title behind them. But the sense that this group could backbone a sustained push was palpable. It was only a question of when.

It's been a while coming but a strong core has provided the impetus for an 'about-turn' and push back to Division 1, three years after they fell out of it.

Eight of the team - Mark Donnellan, David Hyland, Jonathan Byrne, Thomas Moolick, Fergal Conway, Paul Cribbin, Daniel Flynn and Niall Kelly - have been league regulars this season, among the 13 who started each one of their initial six games that earned promotion with a game in hand. Fionn Dowling's performance with effectively a reserve team in Salthill last weekend has earned him a start at Flynn's expense.

Beyond that eight, Paddy Brophy and Sean Hurley have been contracted with AFL clubs since late 2014. Hurley has since returned and is recovering from surgery; Brophy is into his third year with the West Coast Eagles.

Kevin Feely, who spent time on the books of Charlton Athletic and Newport County as a professional soccer player, is also of this generation, having played for a progressive minor team that took Dublin to a third memorable game in a Leinster quarter-final before beating them.

Feely's return is perhaps the biggest single factor in this Kildare resurgence with his versatility offering options at midfield, full-forward and even full-back. But as a midfielder he has helped to anchor them.

The maturing of so many of those 2013 U-21s has led to significant transformation. The departure from the squad of up to 15 players who had played league or championship in 2016 may not be as startling as the exodus from Donegal or even Roscommon but it is significant nonetheless.

With Eoghan O'Flaherty and Alan Smith stepping away, it ends any existing link with the 2008 U-21 team that contested an All-Ireland final. The oldest of those players would only be turning 30 this year.

In a county that has so rarely reached such an elevated place, that's quite a fall-off.

From the best years of that spike under Kieran McGeeney, just Emmet Bolton, Eamonn Callaghan and Peter Kelly remain.

It's a much-changed landscape. Kildare will hope it can change the dynamic with Galway too.

Irish Independent

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