Former pros at the heart of Kildare’s Championship Challenge
By Patrick Ward, Sports Editor Kildare Post
There may be a sizable sense of change in this Kildare team from the time they last faced off against Laois in the Leinster Championship, but the player turnover has not been all that stark when you look at it on paper.
12 of the players who featured in the replay win over Laois in 2015 are involved with the panel once again today, though the presence of those players has been well supplemented by the emergence of youth and the return of a few stars from professional sport.
A clutch of young players who came off the bench that day – David Hyland, Tommy Moolick, Niall Kelly and Eoin Doyle – have all established themselves as lynchpins of Cian O’Neill’s team, with Doyle being named captain by the new manager in his first season in charge last year.
Daniel Flynn returned from playing Australian Rules Football in early 2015, but, quite amazingly, he has still to feature for Kildare in championship football since then as a number of injuries have hampered his progression. The powerful Johnstownbridge forward is capable of dominating almost any full-back in the game through his shear physical presence, and he will be eager to hit the ground running when he finally gets to enjoy some summer football this afternoon.
Flynn was just beginning to hit his stride in the middle part of the league as he chipped in with 0-3 and 1-1 in successive games against Derry and Fermanagh, but a hamstring injury before the home meeting with Clare prevented him from lining out in the last three games of the league. His absence deprived Kildare of a crucial outlet in the full-forward line, and that perhaps contributed to the fact that Kildare lost two of their final three games, including the Division 2 decider against Galway.
Flynn is likely to be joined on the inside line at some stage today by Paddy Brophy, the latest Lilywhite to make the move home from Oz. Manager Cian O’Neill described the Celbridge man as not being ‘championship ready’, but the loss of Ben McCormack and Neill Flynn means he will surely play a major role.
He joined the Kildare panel before they departed for their warm-weather training camp in Portugal two weeks’ ago, and O’Neill said that he has already shown signs of returning to the sort of player who was tearing up defences in Division 1 of the National League as a teenager.
“He stood up football wise, and naturally he hasn’t played full-time in two years so he’s still working hard on his pitch awareness, his skills awareness and his tactical awareness, but for a guy that has been away for two-and-a-half years you certainly wouldn’t have thought that last week,” remarked O’Neill following the six-day camp.
Along with the aforementioned duo, Kildare can boast another couple of former professional athletes around the middle third of the field in Paul Cribbin and Kevin Feely. The former was also an AFL player with Collingwood while Athy man Feely enjoyed some time in England with Charlton Athletic and Newport County.
Both players have been in fine form for the Lilywhites so far this year, with Feely particularly catching the eye with a string of impressive displays at midfield, utilising the new ‘mark’ rule to great effect, and the middle third of the pitch is likely to be a hotly contested battleground today.
Kildare will be riding into this game high on confidence following their promotion from Division 1, but league form tends to count for little in the white heat of championship, and Laois proved that to be the case when they swept aside the challenge of Longford two weeks’ ago despite tumbling down to Division 4 this spring following successive relegations.
Whatever happens today, it’s sure to be an intensely physical battle, and despite these sides operating at the opposite ends of the scale in the National League, that gap is unlikely to be evident today.