Longevity in a sporting career is a rare thing these days. Rarer still is the ability to remain at the top of your game for 20 years.
Sarsfields have always been one of the biggest trend-setters of Kildare football and as they won back the senior county title last October, a man from their ranks collected his sixth championship medal.
Enda Freaney has given a phenomenal amount of service to the club’s senior team, culminating with that record-breaking sixth senior medal last year.
“I’ve been playing senior since 1993 so I didn’t think we would get to six. We lost four or five county finals in that time too so it was nice to get to the six in the end. It’s great to win so many but I was lucky to play on some great teams,” he said after his unique achievement was recognised at the club’s recent awards night.
His graduation to the senior team brought him a championship medal in his first senior final and another quickly followed a year later. With the future stretching out before them and the idealism of youth fuelling their dreams, they believed that the medals would keep coming. Instead they had to endure the heartache of final defeat and years without medals before experiencing glory again.
“I thought I’d get to maybe three or four but I didn’t think there would be six. There was a seven-year gap between the fifth and sixth medals so after that I didn’t think it was coming. I didn’t play in 2011 but when Johnny (Crofton) took over I said I’d come back, give it another year and see what happens. Thankfully it all paid off,.”
There were a couple of near misses along the way – the replayed final of 2008 against Celbridge and a close oone against Newbridge rivals Moorefield are two that got away for Freaney in the seven years it took him to win his sixth and final medal. There were other years that ended with final and semi-final defeats too that could have borne more medals.
“You get over it after a couple of months and everyone’s back in January again. It’s hard to take at the time but you have to move on for the next year,” he says philosophically.
The first cut is the deepest or so the song goes and for Freaney, it rings true. The most unforgettable final of the six was his very first, as he recalls.
“The first one was probably the most memorable win because we had won the minor final two weeks previously and it was a drawn senior final. We were subs on the day of the initial game and we got to tog out for the replay. I game on with 15 or 20 minutes to go and it ended up going to extra-time against a great Clane team. I remember scoring the goal with about three minutes to go that put us two points up and that was our first county final win since 1986. That’s the standout memory for me, you couldn’t top that really.”
The sixth was something of a surprise given he had retired at the end of 2010 and didn’t play the following year. He was tempted out of retirement for one final shot at glory by the arrival of John Crofton as manager.
“I was training away and playing with the second team and it was just great to be involved again. During the year Johnny asked me to become a selector but luckily enough I got to make a small appearance in the final after Conor Tiernan scored the penalty. I think they were holding me back trying to get on! It was great to win it because there was a lot of work put in last year,” he says.
If there is a secret to his longevity with the Sash, it’s the young blood that regularly replenishes the beating heart of the club. That has maintained his enthusiasm and passion for winning.
“I had a lot of problems in the 20 years too with three surgeries on my shoulder and a broken ankle so it hasn’t been perfect and I missed a lot of football but that was it. Once I got over that I never struggled with hamstrings or anything like that. Over time the younger lads who come into the team give it a lift and they’re nearly driving you on at times, knowing that they give you another chance of winning. That pushes you on.”
With his football boots hung up for good this time, Freaney will continue as part of Sarsfields’ management team. Retaining their title is the priority for the year but with such a closely fought championship and every team desperate to topple the current kings of Kildare he knows the journey to the final will be fraught with danger. The loss of last year’s midfield kingpins is another obstacle but Sarsfields have a lethal weapon to unleash on their rivals.
“It’s going to be tough especially losing Matty (Byrne) and Chalky (White) because they were probably the best midfield in Kildare last year so they would be a huge loss to any team. We have a fella called Dermot Earley to come back in there so he’s not too bad a replacement and hopefully he will stay injury-free. It’s going to be difficult to win as it’s so competitive and we have a young enough team this year but it’s another tough year ahead.”
Freaney is enjoying his new role as a selector and he will be in the trenches for his 21st summer in 2013, soldiering on so that more glory can come the club’s way. He may have six county medals to his name but Sarsfields and football are all he’s known since he first kicked a ball around the field with his friends as a nine-year-old.
This is one story that’s far from over.