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'Passing tourists in Kildare can shout in the windows at people: 'Ye can’t score''

We reflect on the year Kildare were last kings of Leinster.

Updated May 1st 2020, 8:30 AM

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This article is a part of 2000: Revisited, a week-long series of features looking back on some of the headlines and the forgotten stories that filled the sports pages 20 years ago.

Below, Kevin O’Brien speaks to Padraig Brennan to take us through Kildare’s last Leinster winning campaign during the height of Mick O’Dwyer’s reign.

* * * 

PAT SPILLANE ACTUALLY tipped Kildare in RTÉ’s pre-match build-up for the 2000 Leinster final replay against Dublin, but his tune had drastically changed by half-time.

The Lilywhites were trailing by six points when Spillane took aim and unloaded both barrels on Mick O’Dwyer’ side.

“Good performance by Dublin, but they’re against a woeful and inept opposition, where a forward line, not one of them could manage to score from play,” said Spillane.

“But, of course, what’s new with Kildare forwards? A team who continue to short-pass the ball, who take eight passes to get to the 50-yard line, a team who overcarry the ball. Christ, they’re a team who are so easy to defend against.

“They have two attacking options. There’s no point playing the ball into the corners to the two lively little corner forwards because then they’ve to work it all the way in again.”

Spillane went in that hard on Kildare that even the usually mild-mannered Michael Lyster got involved and threw a few jabs.

“Why is this the case with Kildare forwards? I mean, the sheep down in Connemara know this about them. Passing tourists in Kildare can shout in the windows at people, ‘Ye can’t score.’ They know this. Why don’t they do something about it?”

But Spillane didn’t leave it at that.

On the first-half introduction of Karl O’Dwyer, the manager’s son, and the imminent arrival of Cork native Brian Murphy, he fired off further shots.

“If Karl O’Dwyer was in Kerry he wouldn’t be making the Kerry senior championship side, if Brian Murphy was in Cork, he wouldn’t be making the Cork junior football side.”

mick-odwyer Mick O'Dwyer managed Kildare during two separate stints Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As it turned out, both O’Dwyer and Murphy played key roles in Kildare’s second-half comeback. Padraig Brennan, one of the ‘lively corner-forwards’ that day, stumbled across the clip online recently and had a chuckle to himself.

“It’s hilarious to watch after the fact,” the Sarsfields clubman tells The42.

“I did see it at the time after the game. What he had said if I remember correctly was about the ‘two little corner-forwards’ which was Tadhg [Fennin] and myself. I mean, I’m six foot, maybe I looked small out on the pitch but I wasn’t necessarily that small.

“Kildare forwards, it was the easy stick to beat us with really. The style of football played by Kildare at the time was about possession and pure power, drive and momentum.

“We had some very, very good forwards. Eddie McCormack, Martin Lynch – you’d do well to get a more stylish footballer than him. Johnny Doyle was in his first year playing championship football too.

“Karl was a superb player. He could hold his own with anybody and when he came on at centre-forward that day he really ran the show in the second-half.

“In fairness to Brian Murphy his legacy will live long in Kildare football. He scored the winning goal against Laois in ’98, setting up Tadhg [for a goal] after he came on.

“He played very well against Galway in the semi-final and was an absolute handful for any defender. I think Murph had the last laugh on that one, that’s for sure.”

Source: CillDaraTimes/YouTube

It was a seasoned Dublin side with a host of veterans retained from their All-Ireland win five years earlier, such as Jason Sherlock, Dessie Farrell and Jim Gavin. They were supplemented by young blood in the form of Collie Moran and Ciaran Whelan. 

While Kildare, Leinster champions two years earlier, had operated far below their usual level in the opening period, it was surprisingly a calm scene in the dressing room at half-time. The presence of an eight-time All-Ireland winning manager certainly helped matters.

“We hadn’t played. Dublin seemed all over us for a period in the first-half, Collie Moran kicked a couple of unbelievable points. We were just trying to hold onto them. 

jim-gavin-and-ken-doyle Jim Gavin of Dublin and Ken Doyle of Kildare challenge for a ball. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“Micko was unbelievably calm. He had more experience than anybody in those kinds of situations and that was one of the key things that the group drew on. Nothing fazed Micko. He’d been there and done it.”

Within 90 seconds of the restart, a Kildare side ridiculed for their lack of goalscoring punch had rattled the back of the Dublin net twice.

The first goal arrived when Dermot Earley was slipped through on goal after a neat move involving Brennan and O’Dywer. 

“Karl had come on and was excellent on the ball,” recalls Brennan. “He popped the ball out on the wing towards me. I felt good, I knew I had a few tricks up my sleeve. I threw a couple of dummies and managed to pop a ball into Dermot. He kept it low underneath Davy Byrne and we were off then. 

“All of a sudden the Kildare crowd came alive and you couldn’t hear yourself speak. I suppose from a Dublin perspective they were wondering, ‘What’s going on?’ Straight from the kick-out we win the ball, you can hear the roar of the crowd and we were away.”

The second came from the boot of Fennin, created by Murphy.

“From being six points down we’re level. At that stage it would have taken a fair team to beat us. Dermot was dominating around the middle, our half-back line was so strong.

“That momentum and confidence that had been built up from many a championship battle over the previous two or three years just came flooding through. We slowly chipped away. In the end we won by five points.

dublin-players-and-management Dublin players and management at the end of the game. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“I kicked a couple of points and just felt so confident in what we were doing that once we got level I don’t think Dublin could really sustain us in the second-half.

“There was a calmness there and Glenn Ryan was the pinnacle of it. People talk about Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane, well if Mick O’Dwyer was our Alex Ferguson then Glenn Ryan was Roy Keane on the pitch.  

“He was a very aggressive footballer, but in terms of how he controlled the team. He demanded so much from people but was just a fantastic figure to watch train and how he carried himself and drove the team on. 

“That group always had a bit more in the tank and they could come back, especially during that period.”

mick-odwyer-and-glen-ryan-1282000 Kildare manager Mick O'Dwyer and captain Glenn Ryan lift the Leinster title. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It was their first time to defeat Dublin in a Leinster final since 1924 and the first occasion they’d scored two goals against their great rivals in the championship since 1977.

A 20-year-old Brennan kicked five points that afternoon, four from frees out of his hands. Earlier that summer, Dublin legend Charlie Redmond wrote a column criticising free-takers who refused to take their kicks off the ground.

After the game, Brennan was asked by reporters about his free-taking style: “I know Charlie Redmond wrote a piece recently saying it is better to kick from the ground but kicking from the hand is the only way I’ve ever kicked and I don’t think it has done me any harm. I haven’t the strength in my legs to kick it off the ground!”

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 4.51.59 p.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

Reflecting on it two decades later, he admits that he idolised Redmond as a youngster and can still recall his exact free-taking routine.

“Somebody asked me around that time about a footballer I admired and I loved Charlie Redmond at the time. I always remember when he was taking his frees he used to take seven steps back and three to the side.

“He was a superb striker of the ball. I know when he was taking his penalties he used to take five steps back and four to the side, but penalties didn’t really go down as well for him.  

“When my father was playing football he used to take frees off the ground but when I was growing up I always took them out of the hands. It kind of came in as I was starting out playing football, taking frees from the hands.

“So it was the only thing I ever knew and I always felt very confident in it. I think in some ways off the ground, if it’s done correctly, looks very stylish. I would argue that you can be equally as accurate out of your hands as off the ground and I’d suggest there are probably stats to back that up.”

It had been an eventful Leinster campaign for Kildare. Brennan didn’t start the drawn semi-final against rivals Offaly, but he was in the line-up for the replay and kicked eight points.

“My confidence was sky-high,” he says. “We went from there.”

padraig-brennan-digital Kildare ace Padraig Brennan. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

The build-up to the final was dominated by a row over Niall Buckley’s eligibility following his return from Chicago for the summer.

Buckley moved Stateside in the early part of the year to work and play football with the St Brendan’s club. He flew home in late June to rejoin the Kildare panel for the championship.

Because of his intention to return to Chicago after the inter-county season, Croke Park stated in a letter than he would be unable to resume playing with St Brendan’s that year if he lined out with Kildare. Buckley’s hands were tied by red tape and Kildare were forced to soldier on without one of their leading men. 

O’Dwyer was furious, calling “the whole thing a joke.” 

“It’s ridiculous a rule should stop him. We have an amateur association, but I wonder at times. I’m supposed to be the only professional in the game,” he quipped.

The old Croke Park pitch had been lengthened for the All-Ireland hurling semi-final but it was shortened by 15 yards prior to the Leinster final. The Kerry man cried foul, declaring that the tighter confines would suit Dublin’s ageing team. 

Screenshot 2020-04-29 at 11.40.32 a.m. Source: Irish Newspaper Archive

Dublin were fortunate to get a second bite of the cheery after Collie Moran’s late point earned them a 0-14 apiece draw, which many felt gave the Sky Blues an edge heading into the replay. 

But self-belief was never a quality lacking in teams trained by Mick O’Dwyer.

“I felt the drawn day there was very little between the teams and we could have snuck it. Dublin had a fine squad, Collie Moran really burst onto the scene that summer and was a superb footballer. 

“When we came into the replay, we were confident going in. It wasn’t that we felt we’d left anything behind us from the first game. There was no-one ever going to panic in that situation, that definitely wasn’t the psyche of the group.

“With Micko you had the perfect storm. You had some of the best footballers that ever played for Kildare coming through. You had a manager there who brought everybody with him, the whole county fell in behind him, the county board, the supporters club and you’re going in the one direction. When you have all that it’s a hard thing to stop.  

“That level of confidence and backing that came through Micko just oozed through the team.”

dessie-farrell-and-glen-ryan Dessie Farrell takes a shot under pressure from Glenn Ryan. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

Getting through O’Dwyer’s savage training methods was an achievement in itself. After enduring torturous running sessions in the Curragh, the prospect of the white-heat of championship action didn’t seem so bad. 

When it came to that point in a game where players need to dig deep, the Kildare squad knew they had plenty in the tank.

“Micko had the philosophy that you had to be incredibly fit before you could do out and play football,” says Brennan. “He definitely brought us down that road. I was as fit then as I’ve ever been in my life.

“We had training sessions where we went up to the Curragh, to a place called Rathbride Cross. We would do this in the middle of the summer, it this wouldn’t be stuff you’d do in the winter. Your warm-up session could be a 3 or 4km jog. 

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“You’d get down to the end near John Oxx’s yard and there were about eight to ten telegraph poles running up the hill near Rathbride Cross. Micko would be in Pat McCarthy’s car on the side driving along with the whistle blowing.

“You’d do intervals going up and down in between these telegraph poles going up all the way to the top. I don’t know if a scientific manner was in play, there was nobody calculating how many runs we were doing. You’d do them until Micko said you’d enough done and that was it.

“He wasn’t there with a clipboard thinking, ‘Right, we’ve 10 runs that’s enough’. You’d keep going until he felt that was enough. I have to say in terms of fitness levels it was fantastic.

“But in terms of your mentality and going into games, you just always knew you had something in the tank. You always knew there was something there, that you’d trained harder than any other match you’d get. 

“Obviously there’s an intensity that comes with football matches that would not always be there in the training session, that goes without saying.

“But when you’ve done runs on the Curragh to the point where you don’t feel you can do anymore and you’ve Micko walking alongside you laughing at the good of it and laughing at the fact you’re not finished yet, that does instil a confidence in people.”

kildare-players-celebrate-1282000 Padraig Brennan and Dermot Earley celebrate with the trophy. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

As GAA started to adopt modern coaching methods, that Kildare side were viewed as a distinctly old-school group.

After the Leinster final, the late Eugene McGee likened them to the great Offaly hurling side of the same period. He wrote that both sides “are totally unpredictable” and that “their performance levels are largely outside the control of their respective managers.”

He went on: “And in the present climate – when managers seek to programme their teams into robots with help of psychologists, statisticians and whatever you’re having yourself – that is a pleasant relief. The Offaly and Kildare players provide a small touch of spontaneity in a GAA world that is rapidly outlawing that aspect of the game.”

It was only Kildare’s second Leinster crown since 1956 but, having contested the All-Ireland two years previous, they set their sights firmly on lifting the Sam Maguire.

A Galway outfit featuring Padraic Joyce, Jarlath Fallon and Michael Donnellan pipped them in the All-Ireland semi-final as they had done in the ’98 final.

“I definitely thought we were as strong if not stronger in 2000 as we were in ’98. I was young enough in ’98 so the other players might think different to that, but I thought we were in a superb position to win it. 

“I never thought Galway were a team that was hugely better than us in any way. They were a superb team but I definitely thought we were as good. We just lacked maybe that bit of a killer instinct at certain times. In the semi-final in 2000, John Finn was sent off and we felt a bit hard done by with that and it probably knocked us a little bit.  

“That was a miserable, wet day and it just didn’t play towards us if I remember correctly. It didn’t help but it’s not an excuse or anything like that. The Galway team went on and were unlucky in the All-Ireland final but they came back the following year and won it in 2001. They had a superb team but there was very little between both teams I’d suggest.”

Brennan finished joint-sixth in the 2000 scoring charts behind Dara Ó Cinnéide, Oisin McConville, Padraic Joyce, Mike Frank Russell and Rory Gallagher after a campaign where he bagged his second provincial medal.

“It’s terrible to say but back then a Leinster championship just seemed to mean an awful lot more on the basis that it was knock-out football. Every match was vital, there was no round-robin or back door.

“To win a Leinster was a huge thing. Kildare had won the one in ’98 and hadn’t one since 1956 before that. So you could only imagine how important it was. But I definitely think without a doubt that after the win in 2000 it was a fantastic achievement but there were much bigger things to play for. 

“We definitely felt we left an All-Ireland behind us in ’98 and the plan after 2000 was to try and go on and amend that,” he says. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. But while the celebrations were great in 2000, there was definitely a focus there. We knew that there was a bigger goal at play.”

Brennan broke onto the Kildare panel as an 18-year-old during the ’97/98 National League campaign and the season concluded with an appearance off the bench against Galway in the All-Ireland decider.

He remembers it as a “surreal” time when he believed Kildare would be regular visitors to All-Ireland final day.

“I was obviously devastated with the loss but took it that this was the norm. This was my first year on the panel, getting to the final and these huge crowds, I was thinking, ‘Sure this is the way inter-county football is. Isn’t it fantastic?’

“I went from there. Managed to play good football and we were really starting to move well. It was fantastic. When I look back at my time playing football, at inter-county level it was just incredibly enjoyable, a phenomenal period to play football.

“From about ’97 to beyond 2000, Kildare were very strong. You had superb players, Glenn Ryan, Niall Buckley, Martin Lynch, Willie McCreery, Dermot Earley – really coming of age. They were in their prime.

“I was a young lad coming onto the panel and that whole period was phenomenal. 

“While we had got to the final in ’98, we went out tamely to Offaly in the first round in ’99, coming into 2000 we were very much in a strong position. We had lads with a lot of confidence playing at that level, they were very assured of themselves. We were out to win an All-Ireland, that was the ultimate goal.”

padraig-brennan-and-michael-donnellan Brennan and Michael Donnellan compete for possession. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

Still, despite their failure to land the big one under O’Dwyer, it’s a period of his life he looks back on fondly. 

“Back then you had knock-out football. It can be very heartbreaking but if you come out the right side of it it’s incredibly rewarding. I made my debut against Laois and you had 50,000 or 60,000 people at a Kildare-Laois game in the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park. A huge crowd.

“In the first round of Leinster against Dublin in ’98 and the replay, you had full houses in Croke Park. Obviously, the systems have changed and things are different now but it would take an unbelievable match at the moment to get 80,000 people in for the first round of the Leinster championship which I don’t think is possible.

“And that’s because of the system, not supporters. It’s just the backdoor has changed that kind of structure, but that’s the way it was back then. In 2000, every game we played in was a full house in Croke Park. Every single game, it was incredible.

“The support that was there, you’d go up to training sessions and you’d have huge crowds of people watching you, just interested in it. It was a phenomenal time to be a part of Kildare football and I’ll be honest with you, I feel incredibly lucky to have been there at that time.

“I definitely I jumped on the coattails of some of the best footballers that ever played for Kildare. I was lucky enough to be around when Kildare were going through a very successful period.”

First published today at 07.30

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Kevin O'Brien

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