Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Neill to reap rewards from return of Lilies' globetrotters

Paddy Brophy this week announced his intention to return home to Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile
Paddy Brophy this week announced his intention to return home to Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Of late, much of the AFL's focus has fallen on the talented youngsters coming off the newly-reinvigorated production line in Kerry.

Three All-Ireland-winning minor teams in a row and four successive Hogan Cup wins will attract that sort of unwanted attention and the Kingdom have felt the pinch. The highly-rated Mark O'Connor is already Down Under and there's talk that more of Kerry's prized assets could follow him.

But before Kerry was the first port of call for the AFL, Kildare held that dubious honour.

Rewind back to the 2013 Leinster U-21 final. A talented Kildare side saw off a late challenge from Longford to secure provincial honours with Paddy Brophy grabbing the game's only goal that night.

This week, Brophy announced his intention to return home to Kildare. He had ventured Down Under 2014 to try his hand at Australian Rules football. He gave it an honest go but never managed to play first team with Perth-based outfit the West Coast Eagles.

Buttress

Brophy will be expected to go straight back in with Cian O'Neill's Kildare set-up. And assuming he does, it will bring to five the number of players involved in the broader Kildare set-up who have tried their hands at other codes, only to return home.

Like Brophy, Sean Hurley, Daniel Flynn and Paul Cribbin all played in that win over Longford in '13. It was a highly-rated group within the county which was tipped to buttress the county's senior team for the guts of the next decade.

But, like Brophy, the lure of a professional life proved too much to resist for those three and they opted to try their hand Down Under.

Hurley's talent was never in doubt but he endured a torrid time with injury in Australia. He was recruited by the Fremantle Dockers ahead of the 2015 AFL season and played 14 league games and five reserve games for Fremantle's WAFL club Peel Thunder in 2015.

But a hip injury helped usher him towards the exit door and after returning home late last year, his problems followed him here. He went back to Australia for an operation before O'Neill announced earlier this season that the Johnstownbridge clubman was stepping away from the senior squad altogether to concentrate on his recovery.

"The priority now has to be his basic health and functionality," O'Neill said back in February.

Not long after their Leinster U-21 win, Hurley's clubmate Flynn signed a two-year contract with Port Adelaide having made his name when helping St Mary's, Edenderry to the Hogan Cup final. However, he returned home for the Christmas break the following and didn't return to Australia, citing homesickness.

Cribbin was the trailblazer of the three. By the time they played in that Leinster final in 2013, he had already been out to Australia with Collingwood and returned home.

The last of the quintet, Kevin Feely, didn't play in the win over Longford as he had already gone off to pursue a career in soccer. He joined London-based side Charlton Athletic in 2012 from League of Ireland outfit Bohemians. He also spent time at Carlisle United, AFC Wimbledon and Newport County before returning home for last season.

He adapted well to life with Kildare last year and quickly became a regular under Cian O'Neill. But his growing influence within the set-up became evident when he was named vice-captain this week.

Their return, along with the arrival of Cian O'Neill, has coincided with an upturn in the fortunes of Kildare football. O'Neill's first year in charge saw them gain promotion from Division 3. And they backed up that league form this year with their second successive promotion.

That they left a league title behind them for the second successive year will leave a sour taste but the class of 2013 were well represented in that final defeat to Galway.

Eight of the side that beat Longford in Portlaoise started in that game with Galway. Feely would likely have played too had he not been cross-channel while the talented Pádraig Fogarty's career has been stalled by a back injury that didn't see him play at all last year.

And while AFL recruits often need time to find their feet when they return to the county scene, Brophy's return could give O'Neill and Kildare another option.

Only time will tell if the Lilies' Wild Geese can help them to new heights. But at least what might have been lost to the county has been reacquired.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport