Padraig Fogarty raring to go with Lilies following back injury nightmare
Kildare's seasonal reappearance against Carlow in the O'Byrne Cup was perhaps most notable for the form of Jimmy Hyland, with Lilies supporters getting a close-up look at the exciting Ballyteague talent, who was named U-20 Player of the Year in September.
However, there was another reason to be cheerful for Cian O'Neill and Co with Padraig Fogarty playing for the county for the first time since 2015, and last night he added to the good vibes when scoring 1-2 as the Lilywhites made light work of Offaly.
It's not that long ago that Fogarty was a much-vaunted talent in Kildare, good enough that Kieran McGeeney saw fit to draft him into the squad when he was just 19 back in 2011.
He'd go on to help the county capture a Leinster U-21 title in 2013 but as others of that vintage including Daniel Flynn, Niall Kelly and Tommy Moolick went on to establish themselves as regulars in the senior team, injury dragged Fogarty down.
It all started with a feeling of tightness in his back before a qualifier clash with Cork in 2015. He could only feature as a sub in the seven-goal hammering at the hands of Kerry next time out. Little did he know that would be the last time he'd play for the county until this month.
"I got back playing with the club in club championship (in 2015) and I suppose you are thinking you have to play. You don't want to go back to your club and say, 'Ah, I can't play'.
"And I could probably get through games but I definitely did an extra bit of damage by playing on.
"I remember playing my last club championship match and one morning I got up and tried to go for a jog and I was barely moving. I was doing myself more damage by trying to be the hero and play matches. If I was in the position again I'd know when to stop."
He was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his back and spent around nine months trying to rehab the injury without going under knife.
Things got so bad at one stage that he couldn't tie his laces and eventually he was forced to have surgery.
"By that stage it was the only option available and I nearly felt like I had lost seven or eight months where I could have had the operation done, but it had to be done. Probably the last few years I've been (hobbling) along and haven't really got my fitness to where it needs to be," continued the St Laurence's man.
"Luckily enough, a club manager brought us to a new level in terms of fitness. A lot of it was running-based. It kind of tested me a bit at the start.
"But over time I got going and I probably went five or six months of real hard training, doing a bit in the gym and my body was well able for it.
"I'm 26 and feeling good at the moment. I'd be very hopeful that I'll be able to get back to that level where I was before."
Fogarty returns at an opportune time. Flynn and Kelly aren't part of the set-up this time, meaning O'Neill's attack will have a new look to it in 2019.
Fogarty comes back to a very different dressing-room to the one he first joined in 2011. Back then, the Lilies had come within a whisker of an All-Ireland final appearance the previous season when losing to Down.
"I think I was 19 when I went in first, it's a totally different squad now. You were in there with the likes of Johnny Doyle and Dermot Earley and Ronan Sweeney and you'd be in awe, but it's a totally new squad now with a lot of the U-20s from the All Ireland-winning squad and a lot of younger lads. So it is a big change but it's all fresh."
Last year was a roller-coaster ride for Kildare. Relegation from Division 1 was followed by defeat to Carlow in Leinster before they managed to make the 'Super 8s'. And Fogarty believes their aim must be to produce top-quality performances more regularly.
"Winning is a habit. Probably last year, maybe in the league we were losing games by a point or two. There's a big difference going to training the following week after losing by a point than after winning by a point.
"When it comes down to the final minutes of a game, if you have that winning mentality and you're after winning a few games by a point or two, rather than losing them, maybe it might give you that edge to kick on.
"You want to play the best, you want to play Mayo, Dublin - that's where you're going to test yourself."