It’s a night that still haunts those involved. 4 July, 2010 in Pearse Park was supposed to be the day that Kildare qualified for a Leinster minor final but just five days after dumping Dublin out of the competition a battle-weary side fell to Longford.
Having played four games to get there and beaten the Dubs twice, it felt like Kildare already had one foot in the final when they travelled down to Longford that Sunday night. Yet, as Christy Byrne remembers, the omens were bad going into the game.
Kildare goalkeeping legend Christy Byrne was a selector for that team and remembers that Kildare were hit hard by a couple of injuries coming out of that Dublin game.
“I remember we had a few injuries, Paul Cribbin and Sean Hurley were injured,” says Byrne, a former Kildare keeper and a selector with the 2010 minors. “We were on a high after beating Dublin but then we picked up so many injuries in beating them it meant that we were going into the Longford game without our two best players at the time. We had to move Jonathan Byrne back into full-back.”
Kildare conceded just five points in the game but three goals from the home team broke their hearts.
“I remember we gave away three soft goals, they weren’t what you would call class goals or anything like that,” says Byrne, who is still playing and managing Rheban.
In the aftermath of that game, it was suggested in some places that Kildare were complacent and overlooked Longford with more than one eye on a Leinster final date at Croke Park but that is a notion that Byrne rejects.
“I don’t think we took them for granted. It was probably just that the three matches against Dublin took its toll over the previous two weeks. The boys were jaded, they weren’t as fresh as we would have liked to have been.”
As a former mentor of many of the current under-21 squad, Byrne still keeps an eye on how they are progressing and he has been delighted to see the impact that so many have made.
“They were top class to work with. They never questioned anything that was asked of them, they knuckled down and worked hard at it. There is a group of players there at the moment who are just class. Paul Cribbin is back, Sean Hurley, Niall Kelly, Jonathan Byrne. Even down to the bench you have the likes of John Comerford, it’s not just the 15 who are strong. It’s the whole 30 players on the panel who are strong.
“You always keep an eye on the lads who you have worked with, to see how they are progressing forward. Every one of them have stepped up to the mark when it has been asked of them, Fionn Dowling, Podge Fogarty. It’s great to see young lads that you would have worked with making the breakthrough. It’s a big step up to senior level and the lads who have done it have been well able for it.”
But Byrne is reluctant to take too much of the credit for their development and instead feels the players themselves should take the acclaim.
“I don’t think we can take credit. These chaps have been brought up through the development squad and they wanted to be winners and to be part of a great Kildare team. We just brought them another step but it is down to themselves. They wanted it and they worked hard together as a team and as individuals. All credit has to go to themselves rather than anybody bringing them up.”
Whether Kildare win or lose on Wednesday, Byrne is predicting big things for many of the players involved which in turn will benefit Kildare in the long run.
“You can go through them from 1 to 30 and at some stage the majority of them will play senior championship football which is great to see with such a young crop of players. When you have youth coming through and they are pushing for places, these young lads are so eager, they want to play senior football and that drives everybody else on then as well.”