Sunday 21 January 2018

Kilbride: We're back on track and looking for redemption

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

COMING off the pitch in Pearse Park after losing an All-Ireland club semi-final to Athlone neighbours Garrycastle last February, St Brigid's star Senan Kilbride wasn't sure what would become of his team.

Completely outplayed by a hungrier side after the restart, Kilbride and his team-mates took the loss harder than the previous year's final defeat at the hands of Crossmaglen.

"The first day you are in Croke Park, you are happy to be there – it's a great occasion," recalls the Roscommon full-forward.

"We had high expectations last year coming into the Garrycastle game, maybe higher expectations than we had going in playing Crossmaglen two years ago.

"We were very disappointed... just the way we performed, we didn't show up at all, particularly in the second half.

"They completely outplayed us. We didn't show any heart or desire, we didn't do ourselves justice, so we wanted another chance at that.

"A few of us didn't show our face in (Athlone) town for a couple of weeks afterwards in case we'd meet them."

Kevin McStay was brought in as manager soon afterwards and discovered a side that was still mulling over that defeat. Along with Liam McHale and Benny O'Brien, he set about reigniting the desire.

It came back slowly. They won Roscommon and Connacht again and against Crossmaglen in last month's All-Ireland semi-final, they jumped a significant hurdle.

"I think we proved the last day that we have come a long way. We have a stronger squad now and tactically we're stronger as well," says Kilbride (pictured).

A handful of this squad were around when the club won their first Connacht title in 2007, and while it is not quite the last chance saloon for the veterans, some of their more established stars have a lot of miles on the clock after racking up a third successive provincial triumph last year.

"A lot of lads took a long break – a well-earned break – last year. We got a new management team who said, 'Look, last year is over, nothing you can do about it now, all you can do is look forward to the year ahead'," Kilbride explains.

"We took the league very seriously, which I think helped. We played well and were very successful, that kind of got lads back on track and the mind focused for the year ahead."

And that approach has led them back to St Patrick's Day. Kilbride has spent long hours commuting back to Kiltoom from Dublin, where he shares a house with Roscommon team-mate Donie Shine.

A teacher, Kilbride taught briefly in a primary school in Ballymun alongside Kickhams defender Eoin Dolan. All civilities will be set aside until the final whistle tomorrow, however.

"You just want another opportunity to redeem yourself or just to get the chance to make the All-Ireland final again. Once you are there you always want to be back again."

Irish Independent

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