Kelly: Young Lilies keeping us on our toes
PETER Kelly may only be a 24-year-old student teacher but even he admits to feeling a bit old in Kildare's increasingly youthful dressing-room this season.
The sudden promotion of so many of their U-21s, and the manner in which they have quickly blended in, has taken him by surprise – and Kelly knows all about making marvellously quick and seamless transitions.
Back in 2010 he was an unknown footballer with a junior club (Twomilehouse), and Kieran McGeeney intended hot-housing him for another year with the county U-21s. But then Leinster championship mortification by Louth saw a defensive SOS go out. Kelly was immediately called up and four months later won an All Star at corner-back.
A cruciate injury the following year put a temporary stop to his gallop but he is back at full strength again and marvelling at how quickly the county's new bloods have been assimilated.
"I don't feel young any more when I look around and see these boys of 18 and 19 coming up," he laughs.
"There's about 10 U-21s on the panel now and they're probably bigger than a lot of the older lads too, they're a freak team in that respect – and there's been no transition period with them at all.
"With a lot of (new) lads, it takes them some time to find their feet and they're kind of afraid to get stuck into older lads. But (this lot) want their position. There's no holding back with them."
Kelly doesn't subscribe to the theory that progress made in the early stages of Kildare's return to Division 1 was erased by their heavy loss to Dublin and subsequent defeats by Tyrone and Down, including a semi-final reverse to the former.
"It was as good as we could have hoped for really, especially to get the extra game under our belts," he said.
"We had some highs and some lows. We started well with three wins in a row but then hit a bit of a dip but we still got to the semi-finals, and we'd have been happy with that at the start of the year."
Questions remain about management's experimentation with positions and the fact they have not nailed down the central spine of the team, ahead of today's Leinster opener against Offaly in Croke Park.
Kelly himself has been moved from pillar to post but he wasn't complaining.
"Kieran (McGeeney) said to me at the start of the year that I might be going out the pitch a little bit to try a few things during the league," he explains.
"I played midfield for the club there recently. A lot of the boys, when they go back with their clubs, play more central positions. I'm used to playing midfield. When I was a lot younger I used to be a forward, I just mightn't look it at times! I'm well used to playing everywhere.
"Whatever role you get you'll do it as best you can. Everyone is so interchangeable now anyway."
After their experiences in 2008 (Wicklow) and 2010 (Louth) Kildare fans tend to get the collywobbles ahead of Leinster openers, but that changed last year when they beat Offaly convincincly. But Kelly fears it will be "a lot tighter" today.
"Offaly are after regrouping this year, they've got a new management team, got to a league final and are moving well. They have their set-up now, everyone knows their job and they're a lot more defensive so they'll be a lot harder to break down. We're expecting a battle."
It's one he believes they will win.
"The media was saying we couldn't beat the top teams but we started this year by beating Dublin. Okay, it was only O'Byrne Cup but then we went on and beat Donegal, Cork and Kerry. You wouldn't want better preparation for championship than Division 1 football."