A new season; a new beginning, a new manager, a new backroom team ... and a new captain.
And now as we look forward to the opening round of the Allianz Football League (Division 3) this Sunday, Naas defender, Eoin Doyle, has been given the role of leading The Lilies throughout 2016.
Eoin began his inter county career back in 2012 when lining out against Galway in a vital league game that ended in a draw; good enough to gain Kildare promotion back to Division 1.
Since that outing Doyle has steadily built up his reputation as a defender of some stature, strong, aggressive, a good reader of the game, a player that many believe has the capabilities to eventually line out at no. 6 but for now the defender would gladly settle for any number on the back of his Kildare shirt.
Over the years Eoin has suffered knee and groin injuries that has seen him miss many big games and presently he is going through rehab to correct an injury that according to his manager Cian O'Neill, “was never properly dealt with over the past two years.”
Eoin himself admits that during that time he managed to play in certain games but the injury would always reoccur but now manager O'Neill has intimated that he will not select players unless fully fit and for that reason Eoin (along with a few others on the Kildare panel) will stick with their rehab until fully recovered.
Speaking exclusively to the Leinster Leader following his appointment as captain, the PE teacher admits that last year in particular has seen The Lilies hit few highs but many lows.
“The last few years have seen many highs and lows, particularly last year (2015) but there were a couple of very disappointing displays and results, along with the high we had when defeating Cork in The Qualifiers but then just seven days later we gave a very poor display in Croke Park against Kerry, so it’s a very fine margin, but we are working, and working very hard, to ensure we have more good days and while there will always be bad days we are striving for more good days.”
Asked if anything in particular that went wrong last year or was it a combination of poor results leading to a fall off confidence and then the pressure building up, he replied that “while I don’t really want to focus on last year, I suppose it was a combination of a lot of things but at the end of the day you have to look at the players and look at ourselves individually, look at who is crossing the white line.
“There were certain games, especially in the league that we just did not perform; days when we did not give a good account of ourselves and we really let ourselves down; and ultimately that is what brought us down to Division 3.”
The defender particularly picked out Kildare's third league game against Westmeath in Newbridge: “We just did not perform that day; it was one of our worst displays of the season.”
Now under Cian O’Neill is there much difference in preparation, training, S&C and tactical approach?
“Ye, there is definitely a new freshness to the whole set up; due to my injury I have not been on the pitch too often unfortunately, but there is a very fresh set-up the entire back-up team is new; an awful lot of new young faces on the panel which is good to see; there were 40 odd in there at the beginning, now trimmed back to 35 or so; a couple of big names gone as well that many may not have expected but that is simply a new management team putting their particular spin on it and we just now all have to get behind them and show we can improve as a team.”
The past few years have not been plain sailing for me personally with injuries, says Eoin, I suppose near the end of the International Rules last year I picked up a bit of a groin problem (again).
“Cian is very anxious that all injuries are completely cleared, not just for any particular game let it be league or championship, but to finally get it cleared up.
“In fairness while I have had a lot of injuries, I and others in the same boat as me, have to show patience and take whatever time it takes; the management is not interested in getting players 70 or 80 per cent right, playing and then they (injuries) reoccurring but in fairness the 4 or 5 injuries we have would now seem to be coming right; there is a top class medical team in place as well as S&C team (strength and conditioning) so we will be hopeful of getting every-one back soon (fingers crossed) but there is no putting deadlines on getting fit; no deadlines being set giving lads false hopes it is all about getting lads 100 per cent fully fit so then when we are called on we are all in a position to give it absolutely everything with no fear of an injury recurring again.”
Eoin admits that being out injured can be a very lonely time; time spent in rehab, in the gym when you would rather be out on the pitches.
How many times a week would you be going through rehab?
“Practically every time the lads are out on the pitch we’d be up stairs getting treatment; going through our specific exercises plus of course all the gym work that we would be doing constantly so I suppose five or six times a week anyway, but then you would be gradually cutting back on that, hitting the pitch before going back fully with the lads, but yes it can be lonely and very frustrating but it's all part and parcel of sport.”
Plenty of new faces in this time around, are they putting pressure on the more established players?
Yes indeed and it's great to see it admits Eoin.
”We have a good few in from Bryan Murphy’s U21s and the good minor teams over the past few years and also some lads who have not played any county football before but it is great to see and that all adds to the competitive edge among the players, and also helps to drive on lads because if you really want to get that white jersey you know you have to be on top of your game; this management team is not interested in what has happened in the past; not interested in reputations or what people can potentially do, they only interested in people who can actually do it and deliver for them.”
One thing that Cian O'Neill emphasised from the word go was that he would not entertain players who felt they had made it by simply being included in the panel.
“He (and his management) only want lads that want to progress at every opportunity; firstly on to the panel; then on to the match day squad; then on to the starting fifteen and so on, and that is the way it should be” adds the Naas man.
On Sunday Kildare face a big test on their initial outing in Division 3 against Tom Cribbin's Westmeath side what are your thoughts on that?
“Tom (Cribbin) certainly knows Kildare, knows his football, hears what’s going on in Kildare and in the panel, the rumours (true or false) and last year when we played Westmeath I felt we really let ourselves down; did not perform and we know that come Sunday that game is really going to be a dogfight; it is still January, it is not going to be a hard pitch with the sun shining but we are really going to have to dig deep and get a result as both sides are looking on as being two of the strongest in the division so hopefully we get off to a good positive start.
”We all talk about results but if we can perform the result will look after itself; it is all about getting that level of performance first off all then getting the result; in the past we have had a habit of simply not performing and then not getting the result so if we concentrate on performing next week the result will then follow.”
That display against The Lakesiders in Newbridge last still haunts Doyle.
“Of all the ups and downs last year, the high and lows for me, that Westmeath game was one of the most disappointing of all, we simply did not perform and it is some-thing we will be looking to rectify on Sunday.”
And what does Kildare's newest captain hope to bring to the table?
“I suppose I will not be changing too much; I have been chosen as captain on what I have been doing to date but hopefully I can get fully fit first of all and then go on and do my talking on the pitch.
“I’m sure there will responsibilities outside of football and I'll take those as they come, most important thing for me is to get through this injury and then begin fighting for my place; concentrating on performances and then driving on to success in 2016 ... whatever that might be.
- INTERVIEW BY TOMMY CALLAGHAN (FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE LEINSTER LEADER ON JANUARY 26, AHEAD OF KILDARE'S LEAGUE OPENER)