WHEN the Leinster Senior Football Championship draw was made Eoghan O’Flaherty was happier than most. The 23-year-old Carbury man knew he would get the chance to line out against friends, against neighbours, against old school mates and against old house mates, writes Ruth Chambers.
When you’re from Carbury the rivalry between Kildare and Offaly is fierce but when a Kildare man, in this instance a Kildare player, lives in the Faithful County it runs even deeper.
During his final year in secondary school Eoghan O’Flaherty and his family moved to the Offaly village of Clonbullogue, he went to school in nearby Edenderry and although the Kildare forward now lives in Naas he still counts many of the Offaly players as friends. On Sunday, however, they will be the enemy.
While studying at Dublin Institute of Technology Eoghan O’Flaherty shared a house with Offaly full back Sean Pender and David Brady from Ballyfore. On rare nights out O’Flaherty socialises with the Offaly players but talk of football is banned. Talk of Sunday’s Leinster Championship quarter final is forbidden but no doubt if Kildare, as expected, emerge victorious, O’Flaherty will be only too delighted to talk to his Offaly friends about the win.
It’s all part of the banter of course and for O’Flaherty facing Offaly makes the fixture that bit more interesting but the young forward certainly isn’t letting it distract him.
Quite the contrary.
O’Flaherty doesn’t care who Kildare are playing, all he cares about is winning and progressing to the semi final. It’s time, he says, for the Lilies to deliver, time to win some championship silverware.
“We’ve been getting to quarter finals the last couple of years and knocking on the door. We’re probably in the top six or eight teams going by the last few years but that means nothing really. We go out to win every game and hopefully if we get over Offaly and get on a bit of a run we can get to the latter stages again,” O’Flaherty told the Leinster Leader this week.
In the last four years Kildare have made it to three All Ireland quarter finals and one semi final. Serious improvement, without doubt, but the Lilies have nothing to show for it bar compliment.
Promotion and the Allianz Football League title came earlier this year and although it was a good feeling to walk the steps at headquarters and collect a trophy O’Flaherty says he wants more, he wants bigger and better.
“We aimed to get promotion and once we got it against Galway all attention turned to championship. To have the extra game in the league final was a bonus and a good test but whether we won or lost it was more about the performance that day,” he explained.
“In the last few years there hasn’t been more than a kick of the ball in games and a small bit of bad luck but the truth is we had chances to take it ourselves in games that we lost. At this stage we definitely want to get silverware, we have to get it this year because we don’t know who is going to be here next year, we don’t know what players will come or go. The belief is there. We believe we have a strong squad and a squad that is good enough,” added the Carbury man.
Cork, Tyrone, Down and Donegal have all ended Kildare’s All Ireland hopes in the last few years. The most Kildare have been beaten by in a quarter final was three points by Cork in Kieran McGeeney’s first year in charge.
In 2009 Tyrone beat them by two points in the last eight clash, while the following year, at the semi final stage, Down prevailed by two.
Last year Donegal got the better of the Lilies by just a single point after extra time in the quarter final. Only a kick of the ball has separated Kildare and progression and looking back now O’Flaherty knows where it went wrong and he, along with his team mates, are intent on not making the same mistakes again.
“A lot of games are won and lost in the last ten or 15 minutes and if you look back on games over the last few years it was simple things like not recycling the ball or trying to force the pass that cost us. It’s more little things that not everyone might see,” he explained.
“The Tyrone game (league final) probably was our strongest ten minutes in a tight game that I’ve played in. We made the correct decisions at vital times and we got three or four points when other years we forced the play a small bit. These things might not be noticeable to people in the stands but games are won and lost because of a bad pass here and there in the last couple of minutes when things are tight,” added O’Flaherty.
Kildare, or O’Flaherty, won’t be found wanting when it comes to commitment and preparations. The sacrifices made by the current crop exceed all that have went before them. Wives, girlfriends, friends and family all take a back seat but it will be all worth it if the elusive Sam makes it way to the Shortgrass County come September.
“You’re training four or five nights a week and you have to put everything else aside. Football comes first and unfortunately family and friends, wives and girlfriends have to take second place. I’m sure that’s really difficult for some lads especially the ones that have kids but it shows the support the lads get from their families. They can go and give the commitment that’s required to be on this panel.
“We’ve trained hard and we’ve put in a huge effort over the last couple of years, it’s been for ten or eleven months every year, we look after ourselves and we make sure we’re prepared and we feel that we can take the next step and get our hands on silverware,” remarked O’Flaherty.
Kildare are fancied to make a real impact in this year’s championship which is a huge contrast to Sunday’s opponents. So far 2012 has been a year to forget for the Faithful and salvaging it against their bitter rivals, against all odds, would be one epic way of doing so.
“Offaly had a disastrous league campaign but bringing Tom Coffey in is really going to galvanise them more. They are aiming for a big performance against us and there is never a whole lot in games between Kildare and Offaly in championship. They still have some excellent players that can cause any team trouble and if we’re not switched on 100 per cent on the day we could be in for a surprise.
“First and foremost Offaly are going to be dug out of us right from the start. They are not going to show us any respect in the same we as we won’t show them any respect. They will just want to get stuck in,” admitted the younger of the two O’Flaherty’s on the Kildare panel.
Thus far 2012 has been a good year for Eoghan O’Flaherty. The first aim was promotion and that has been achieved and he hopes bigger and better things lie ahead. He’s now one of the first names down on the team sheet and for that he is grateful. It’s clear that playing football for Kildare is first and foremost for the Carbury man. He doesn’t care what position he plays in, he simply wants to commit to the cause and will give it his all.
“Sometimes you’re asked to do a job for the team and I’m happy to do whatever Kieran (McGeeney) wants me to do. It’s nice to be in the team and I’ve been lucky to be heavily involved in the championship end of things over the last two years and it certainly does help your confidence. Every year you’re trying to develop your role and improve your role in the team as well. Taking the frees this year has helped me and it has given me a bit of extra responsibility. I’m happy to have it and whatever I’m asked to do for Kildare, whether that’s coming on as a sub or pushing lads hard it training, I’ll do it.”