KILDARE will have a new captain for the 2013 championship after Naas man Eamonn Callaghan was handed the baton by manager Kieran McGeeney.
Callaghan, who is back to full fitness after an injury ravaged league, has been one of Kildare’s best players since McGeeney took charge and earned an all-star nomination in 2010. He has not been without his setbacks and earlier this year, there were times when he did wonder if he would ever get back to his best.
“It’s been the most frustrating year of my life I think,” said Callaghan. Injuries restricted him to just substitute appearances in last year’s championship and even a groin operation before Christmas failed to get him right.
“I was hoping after last year to get all this sorted out in the off-season but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. I struggled at the start of the league but I was happy enough to get the last few league games. I still need a bit of football but I am in a good place now, I feel fit and fresh. It’s good to be back training and playing football, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to put in six weeks training so I’m happy enough,” said Callaghan, who was confirmed as captain on Saturday at training.
One of a select few in the squad who have played over 100 league and championship games for the county, Callaghan had to endure a winter on the sidelines as the rest of the team worked on their fitness.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that even though I couldn’t play I could still do things like cycling and swimming and I lashed into them when I was off and I think that helped with my fitness. It helped in my head as well because when I came back I wasn’t as far off as I might have been. I’m back 100 per cent now. It’s still sore when I’m walking around day to day but when it comes to football it doesn’t really affect me anymore so I am delighted with that.”
Now in his 30s, Callaghan is one of the elder statesman on the team. Back when he was first making his mark in a Kildare jersey, Leinster finals were a regular occurrence but his trophy cabinet is still bare and with time moving on, he is keen to set change that.
“I remember when I first came into the panel in 2002. We got to a Leinster final and Dublin beat us, the following year was my second on the panel and Laois beat us in the final. I thought then that by the time I was 30 I’d have three or four Leinster titles but I’m still waiting for it. You do get a bit desperate at times but hopefully this will be our year, that’s all you can think of. You can only prepare for this year and make sure you are in the best possible shape to win it and that’s what I am trying to do.”
Like the rest of the squad, Callaghan has found the fresh influx of under-21s into the squad a real boost.
“A couple of the older lads might be under a bit more pressure now but it’s great to have that competition. It’s a good thing to have. I’m sure the young lads realise it’s a big step up to play senior football but they have had good experience with the under 21s, winning a Leinster, playing in an All-Ireland semi-final. They’ve had disappointments themselves so hopefully they can learn from that and take from the confidence of winning a Leinster.
“The biggest thing that sets this group of young players apart is their attitude and their mentality. They have willing to work and they have just fitted in with the system. It can be quite daunting for a young lad to come in but I think it’s helped that they all came in together and they have just fitted into the way we play and the effort and commitment that it takes to play senior inter county football.”
Callaghan feels those young players have helped make the current panel the strongest during Kieran McGeeney’s six-year tenure.
“We’ve had that progression and we have always been looking to improve and this year is no different. We’re just concentrating on Offaly now but we are in a good place at the moment. We have good experience, good young players coming through to give a bit of freshness and hopefully that can be the difference this year. I think the management have realised that they needed to make improvements on the panel and I think that has happened this year.”