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'It's coming. It's about time someone sparked life into Leinster'

How the Lilywhites got their house in order and started the production line rolling.

A MONUMENTAL WEEK for Kildare football. 

daniel-flynn Kildare star Daniel Flynn. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

By Sunday afternoon the Lilywhites may well have booked places in the Leinster senior and minor deciders, as well as bagged themselves an All-Ireland U20 crown. 

The minors held up their end of the bargain by beating Wicklow, and this evening attentions will turn to Leitrim where the U20s face Tyrone.

The high-flying Red Hand, led by starlet Ruairi Canavan, will be a difficult proposition. The suspicion is they endured a more difficult route to the final and are fully battle-hardened, having emerged from an Ulster minefield before overcoming Kerry in a humdinger of a semi-final.

But Kildare will go in full of confidence they can deliver a second All-Ireland U20 title since 2018.

The seniors likewise will feel they should have too much for a Westmeath side they played two divisions higher than in the spring. Despite their relegation from Division 1, Kildare’s unbeaten home record that saw them draw with Kerry and beat Dublin and Monaghan suggests mixing it with the big boys is no distant dream. 

“I’d be very disappointed if we don’t have far too much firepower for Westmeath,” says Davy Burke. “After 45, 50 minutes of a proper test, I’d be very hopeful Kildare will be pulling clear here.”

Burke is extremely optimistic about the position Kildare football finds itself in. He led Kildare to their last U20 crown four years ago and Glenn Ryan’s senior panel is backboned by players from that squad. 

The production line in Kildare is churning out talent.

He still his finger on the pulse of GAA in the county. Burke is in charge of the Maynooth Sigerson Cup team and earlier this year returned to the hot seat at Sarsfields, one of the  frontrunners for the Kildare SFC.

“I would really be positive for the future,” he remarks. “The minors are in a Leinster final, one of my best friends Hugh Lynch is the coach of that team. They’re very promising by all accounts. Real, talented young side so they’ll be very happy with that. The future is white as they say!”

The former Wicklow manager applied for the top job last winner after Jack O’Connor stepped aside, only for Ryan to be appointed. 

“It was no secret that I pushed hard to manage Kildare this time around. That didn’t work out but the lads aren’t doing too badly.”

glen-ryan-with-anthony-rainbow Legendary former players Glenn Ryan and Anthony Rainbow call the shots on the sideline. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ryan put together a star-studded backroom team, bringing Johnny Doyle, Dermot Earley, Anthony Rainbow and Paul Galvin on board in a coaching capacity.

There’s a buzz and excitement around this team that has been absent since Kieran McGeeney’s time charge.  

The production line in Kildare is churning out talent and particularly attacking players at a rate they haven’t seen before. Traditionally they’ve been a county with plenty of fine athletes but a little light on scoring inside forwards.

Burke thinks back to Kildare’s run to the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final and believes the current attack is stronger. The 0-24 they put up against Monaghan was eye-opening as leading forward Daniel Flynn didn’t even play.

They beat Louth by 2-22 to 0-12 in the Leinster opener. All six starting forwards had scored from play by the 22nd minute. Darragh Kirwan and Paddy Woodgate arrived off the bench to clip 1-5 between them.

“It’s the first time in my memory that we’ve had genuine potent forwards,” says Burke.

“We’ve out and out forwards. Even going back to 2010 when we were in the All-Ireland semi-final and the kick of a ball away from a final, we had Johnny Doyle lording it, we didn’t have them out and out forwards.

“Leper (Eamon O’Callaghan) was there, James Kavanagh – we had very good forwards but not this type of forward. This for me is lethal dangerous. We definitely have nine lads for the forward jerseys. A couple of them are nailed on – Ben McCormack is probably the best centre-forward in Ireland or very close to it.

“Daniel Flynn is nailed on, Darragh Kirwan, Jimmy Hyland, Neil Flynn, Shane O’Sullivan, Brian McLoughlin, Paddy Woodgate, you’ve serious depth. Every one of them boys I’d have in my team. They’re really talented, they’re honest and they’ll work hard.

“Daniel is obviously the marksman, he’s the marquee forward but I’d say him being left out for the last two rounds of the league was a brilliant stroke of management by Glen and the lads. Because all of a sudden now look at Daniel’s work-rate and his turnovers.

“He’s working back because now he knows that Darragh Kirwan didn’t start against Louth, so if he’s on the line I’d doubt there’s a better forward on the bench in the country. Kerry might be the only team with a forward like that on the bench. I think it was good management there and we’ve really genuine scoring forwards.”

jimmy-hyland Jimmy Hyland won an All-Ireland U20 crown in 2018. Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

A host of his All-Ireland U20 winning side are beginning to take up central roles in the senior team. As great as that Croke Park victory over Mayo, Burke takes greater pride in the number of players that have developed into senior inter-county footballers.

Jimmy Hyland, Paddy Woodgate, Brian McLoughlin, Aaron Masterson, Aaron O’Neill, Tony Archibold, Shane O’Sullivan, Darragh Ryan and Mark Dempsey all give the Lilywhites a youthful exuberance.

“To be honest, that’s the job. I honestly believe your job as an underage manager is to get them to the next level. When you’re the U20s manager I firmly believe your job is to get them to senior.

“How many lads did you bring through to senior? Now if you pick up a medal along the way, brilliant. But it’s not the be-all and end-all for me in a county.

“I think far too many underage coaches are looking to win things. Get senior players into the county and if you pick something up along the way fair play to you.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a winner. I want to win things too. But underage county football is different for me. You want to develop a winning culture, but ultimately how many minors did we get to the U20s, how many U20s did we get to senior? That’s the way I would look at it.”

U20 boss and former Kildare footballer Brian Flanagan agrees with that sentiment.

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“It is a developmental grade. We’re well aware of that role as managers and coaches at this level is to bring these players through and educate them around all the different aspects that are required to be a senior inter-county football.

“While success is brilliant and obviously this week the focus is solely on winning a match, at a higher level fundamentally we’re looking to bring through senior inter-county footballers than can contribute to the Kildare senior team over the next couple of years.”

aaron-browne-lifts-the-trophy Aaron Browne is a highly rated U20 prospect. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Aaron Browne is the leading player on the U20 side and has already been earmarked as a future senior star. Luke Killian, Shane Farrell, Eoin Bagnall, Dan Lynam, Adam Fanning, Tommy Gill, Mark Maguire and Harry O’Neill have also shown real promise in this campaign. The majority of the team are underage again next season.

The strides that have been made at underage level extend to the schools. Three of the four teams that contested the 2022 Leinster colleges senior football A semi-finals were Kildare representatives: Maynooth, Clare and eventual All-Ireland champions Naas CBS.

“There’s been a huge body of work. At underage then within the county the development squads have worked really well. Johnny Doyle and Paul Divilly are putting huge work in and we’re really beginning to see the fruits of that coming through the minor and U20 level.

“I think we’ve really got our house in order the last couple of years and you just want that to continue and you want it to bring success. But we need to keep the eyes on the prize in that regard for this weekend.”

Should the seniors get past Westmeath tomorrow, they’ll most likely face Dublin in a rematch of last year’s final.

Burke believes it’s only a matter of time before Kildare are competing for Leinster titles. 

“Either way as a Kildare man, it’s coming. It is coming, regardless of how this year goes. Like all GAA supporters, we’re impatient and we want it now. If that’s the Leinster final pairing, I’d absolutely see us having a massive chance.

davy-burke Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

“If we got there I think we’d go in with no fear. It was very disappointing last year. We were set-up not to lose. I’d be disappointed in Jack O’Connor and how the management went about their business that day. I’ve no problem with a team setting up compact and to stay in a game, that’s fine.

“But when Daniel Flynn put the ball in the net after 61 minutes we had to push up for the last 10 or 15 minutes. We had to push up to give us a chance to go for it. We lost by 10 anyway. What’s the point? Get to half-time and stay in the game, fair enough I completely understand that.

“But when there’s 10 or 15 minutes to go and you’ve just scored a brilliant goal, crowd are on their feet, people are getting behind you, young keeper in goals, how did we not press up then and go for the game? That’s the disappointing part that Kildare people really didn’t appreciate.

“That might have half-led to the end of getting a change in there. If we’re not trying to beat Dublin and improve in Leinster is it the right fit? I think it would be a cracking match-up and it’s about time someone sparked life into Leinster.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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