Firstly Ciaran, congratulations on reaching the final of the Leinster Junior Championship. It’s great that Kildare have progressed this far in the competition.
How would you assess your run in the competition so far?
Well it can be difficult to know what you’re coming up against really in this competition, the turnover of players for each team changes most years, with lad’s progressing up into the Senior ranks etc. The Louth team we beat in the Quarter Final have reached the Junior Final for the last 3 years but this year, i think alot of new comers were on the team. It’s hard to prepare really for that. But saying that, they were a decent Louth team, i think fitness wise, we were far superior. This team would be training since last October/November; we are really in the shape of our lives. Also i think with the quality of players we had, the likes of Mikey Conway, Willie Heffernan & Mark Scanlon, we outclassed them on the day.
Against Dublin in the semi-final, it was alot harder, we had lost of few players to the seniors but there’s always lads coming in from the bench to fill their positions. The Dubs were probably a more difficult proposition, I know in the first half, we played extremely well and scored alot but in the 2nd half, they came back into it and made a right go out of it. It was a difficult 2nd half for us, but we were happy to get through it. Every time you beat Dublin in a Leinster championship is a good day at the office!
Again, since last week’s Senior game against Dublin, we have lost Ollie Lyons and Sean Hurley but anyone who has been asked to come into the team, has performed brilliantly. It’s tough coming in from nowhere, to fill the big boots of Willie, Mark Scanlan etc but the lads have been exceptional and I have no doubt they will do it again come this Wednesday vs. Cavan.
It looks like a young team on paper and you seem to be gelling quite well on the pitch, is this all the handy work of your manager Tony?
I think a lot of it has to do with the mentality of the group. It really is a club ethos amongst the group of lads we have here. We are all friends and train hard together. The likes of me, Mikey Conway and Mark Scanlan, we would train most nights with the senior panel and not with the juniors, but there’s no animosity towards us, the lads know we will give it 110% towards winning every game. They know we aren’t just taking a valued spot on the team. We are coming to help them and to try a build a successful team.
It’s a case of everyone’s pulling in the same direction. The juniors train on the same night as the seniors, we all know the main goal is to play for the seniors and the more lads that filter onto the senior team from the junior grade the better; it shows that the system is working. Even though we are losing lads from the Junior team, I know that i want to be that next person to move up, and to do that, I will do my best to win every game with the Juniors that I play in. I know that a lad will fill my position if i go and do a great job.
There aren’t any individuals on the team, we are all pulling in the same direction which is great and it goes back to what i said earlier, there seems to be a real club ethos within the group which sometimes doesn’t happen at county level.
Some people may see this junior team as a development team for the seniors, would you agree?
Yea you could say that, if you look at the age group of most of the players, its early twenties, players who are progressing, up and comers and lads who are on the fringes of the senior panel like myself. It’s great for the likes of Mikey Conway to come back down and use the junior level as game time to help with his recuperation from injury. Hes playing at a high level again and this also helps the players around him. He will improve the team and therefore improve lad’s performances.
The likes of Paddy Dunne, he has been called onto the Senior panel now from the Juniors based purely on what he did against Louth. Throw him into Senior training now and he won’t be lacking. He doesn’t need the background training; he is up to speed with the fitness levels of the senior team as are all the junior team. You will have lads with the fitness, the strength, the stamina like any regular on the Senior team. Whereas i think if other senior counties call up someone, they might be lacking in one of these areas so it’s an important system Kildare have in place at the minute.
It’s also good to know that after playing 1 good game for the juniors, you just might get you the call up to Senior level, as seen last week with Lyons and Hurley. So the concentration and focus is high going into trainings and games. This can only mean better results for the junior team. No door is closed and every lad on the junior panel has the opportunity to step up to the level if he wants to.
Scoring wise, the team seem to be doing very well, 2-14 vs Louth & 1-9 vs Dublin, is this an area that Tony has been working on with the team during training?
Well, considering the conditions against Dublin where there was heavy rainfall, it was more impressive than the other game but we do focus on the same patterns of play in training as the seniors. So even down to the tactics the seniors use in the forwards, we would use. As lads step up from junior level to senior, there is no divide there and it’s clearly defined. These are top quality players there too. No player is going out there with the attitude; i need to score 4 or 5 pts. to stay on the pitch, everyone is helping each other and long may it last. It’s a joy to play with lads who always give the player with the better option the ball and moving it fast.
We share the same mentality as the seniors too, with the now “famous” plus 16 minus 2 motto which was printed on tops last year. But the more you think of it, the more you drive it in, the more it becomes the norm. You don’t step off the pedal when your scoring well. If you have 10 points, you’re looking to score another 2. If you hit that mark, you reassess and hit more. Then if you don’t hit 16, you become disappointed. It’s just about getting it into your head i suppose. It’s the winning mentality that Kieran has pushed and it’s coming to this level too.
So how are preparations going for the final?
They’re going very well, the team went down to Clare two weekends ago and beat the Clare senior team by a point. Which is massive when you see the result last week when the exact Clare team came within a point of beating last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists! So you can see the dedication of the lads, it was a Friday evening, alot of the lads were working and travelled all the way to Ennis and put in a good performance like that.
During the year, we would have played Carlow & Offaly Senior teams in challenges and beat them! So when lads see that, they know we are doing something right. We are well able to mix with the best of them.
The panel we have aswell is very strong, even last night, we played a training match between us, 15 a side with a referee who was brought in. It was tough going. We are all fighting for our places on the team. You are nearly relieved to play a challenge game or a league game, you are getting hit that much in training and the intensity’s so high that when you run out against a different team other than your own lads, it’s a relief!
I suppose it replicates match scenarios which is helpful. With shooting practise or some drills that clubs do, there’s no one around you to block you or put you off, you might be going through the motions and then come game time, the intensity changes and the player might not handle it properly. Anyone can kick a point from 20yards with no one around them but to do it when you have 2 players trying to block you is a different story. And this is what’s done every week at training for us.
You seem to be scoring very well in the last 2 games, 5pts vs Louth and 3pts vs Dublin, is that a particular part of your game you have been focusing on?
Yea i suppose there is a little bit of pressure on the likes of myself, coming down from the senior panel, your expected to lead the way. You want to get the early scores on the board, influence the lads around you and build confidence.
Lads might still be finding their feet and it’s up to the likes of myself, Mikey Conway and Jimmy Gately to step up to the plate and helping the lads, leading the way so to speak.
It’s always nice to hit a few points. Going back to the motto, if you’re trying to hit 16 points every game, you will need every forward scoring a few points. Nut if i don’t score during the game and we win, I won’t be losing any sleep over it.
Theres a confidence within the camp where it can be a shoot on site policy. If it goes wide, nobody will give out to you. Which does help and its of huge benefit to know that nobody will be on your back if you kick a wide so lads are just that more relaxed when kicking for their scores.
Do you find much of a step up from playing with Moorefield Seniors to the Kildare Team now? you have been part of the senior team here now for a few years winning Kildare and Leinster titles along the way, do you find much of a difference now with playing with the Kildare lads?
Well coming from Moorefield I don’t think it’s too bad, we have serious intensity at club training and we have numbers turning up at training but I hear from some other county players from small clubs, they might have been hit by the recession, players have emigrated and only 10 or 11 will turn up for training so it’s very hard to do anything at training.
I suppose the difference with Kildare than Moorefield, is that it’s not just 2 or 3days a week training, its 7 or 8 sessions a week which would include for gym sessions and recovery work. There isn’t really a day off as such. Then the social life of things would be hampered, we have to rest and if lads want to go out drinking or staying up late then they won’t be in tiptop form at the next session.
You do have to go out on your own and practise your shooting, and it’s enjoyable when it pays off during a big game. Something that you have worked hard on achieving will pay off in the end.
So you’re playing Cavan now in the final on Wednesday. Have you seen much of them in the championship?
Not really but the first thing i would look at straight away is their u21 side that got to the All-Ireland final. I know a few of the lads that were on that team have moved onto the senior team but the majority of them are playing at this level too. So they will be hard to beat i imagine. We have met before over the years at this level and they’re always a strong physical team.
At the start of the championship, you were named captain of the side, its a big honour for the club, to have one of our own representing the county, and especially as captain. its fantastic. How did it make you feel when you were told?
Yea its great honour to be named captain of the team. When Tony asked me to be captain I was only delighted. We were out playing Cork one night in a challenge match at the start of the year, and he said ” listen….this is the way its going to be..your captain”.. I wasn’t really asked. I was told! But I would have known Tony from playing juniors a couple of years ago. I then went travelling for a while and when i came back, he gave me a ring back in October when Moorefield were beaten by Portlaoise and told me that the juniors were starting the week afterwards. Niall Carew was watching me and tony wanted me to try and increase my fitness levels with the juniors and push on for the Seniors. I suppose at the time it was a big commitment. I was there before and I’m wondering, is it all worth it? Will i get a run in? but its proved hugely successful so far and I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s an honour for me and hopefully it’s an honour for the club aswell.
How do you think you will feel when you lead the team out in St Conleths Park for the final? the ground in your hometown.
Yea it’s brilliant. We just want to go out there and win it for the county. We are thinking All-Irelands with this team. that’s how ambitious we are. Obviously we aren’t taking Cavan lightly, we expect a tough game. but we feel within the camp that we can push on and go for the All-Ireland. Some silverware will justify the amount of work we have put into this so far. We have trained hard for the last 7or8 months and are looking forward to have something to show for it all. I feel there’s no reason at all why this team can’t go all the way in this competition.
Has Kieran Mc Geeney any input into the team? Does he keep an eye on the games?
Yea he has a huge input, he calls Tony after every training session for half an hour, getting a blow by blow account of what happened. He takes heed of Tony’s words, if you’re playing well in training or a challenge game and Tony feels that you’re ready to step up to the Senior level then Kieran will bring you on board and give you a chance.
He’s been at our championship games, sitting in the stands with a radio in one hand, talking to our management team on the side-line so that shows his interest. Players know that if you work hard and play well that the rewards are there so it motivates them i suppose. There has to be good communication between the teams and the boys trust each others words. Tony’s been there for a while now and he knows the workings of the group. From minor to u21 to Junior and Senior, there’s a good level of communication between everyone and it shows in the good results Kildare GAA have been producing lately.
And on a personal level, would Kieran communicate with yourself? Would he give you advice?
Well Kieran is quite relaxed really, he’s not one to bark out orders at you. It’s the case where every player on the team knows what role he needs to carry out for the team, and if he is going down an alley or is making a mistake here and there, Kieran will take you to one side and have a little word in your ear. If it’s not Kieron, its Aiden O Rourke or Niall Carew. so there’s good back up there. Everyone just wants to better themselves and in turn, better the team. You will never feel that you’re on your own or you have no one to talk to. Now you might go 6months without talking to Kieran, but he is keeping an eye on you and will know what’s going on even when he’s not there to see it with his own eyes. And if you ever have anything to say, he’s always willing to listen and take it on board, which shows good man management skills.
So finally Ciaran, on a club level, we had a great year last year, winning the championship final agasint Sarsfields. We unfortunately came unstuck agasint PortLaoise in the Leinster championship. what would be your goals this year?
Well in the Leinster game vs PortLaoise, i just think the game came around a week too quick for us, Daryll was coming back from injury and we have a few more with knocks. It just seems that when that time of year comes around, we are unlucky with injuries and we have rarely had a full team to pick from around that time. Everyone in the team knows what we are capable of doing but we can’t think too far ahead. The standard of football in Kildare is so high now that if you have one bad game then you’re in trouble. You really have to concentrate on the county championship before even contemplating Leinster.
At the minute, the boys are doing fantastic in the league, winning 9 out of 9 so far and that shows what strength we have in the squad without having a few lads who are away with the Army and also any of the county lads involved. So that’s 5or 6 off the starting team last year missing straight away. But there is an awful lot of young lads stepping up to the mark now, the likes of Colin Lonergan & Aaron Mullins who help freshen the team up and prove that if your good enough, your old enough. Then you have the experienced players like Paddy Murray & Philly Wolfe who are there helping the younger generation improve whilst still playing consistently well themselves.
So we are just concentrating on the next round agasint Carbury now and take it step by step and see how it goes. Obviously, winning the league then the championship is the dream but we won’t think about that just yet. Carburys next in mind.