KEVIN O’Shaughnessy has seen it all in a Rheban jersey.
He was a 17 year old goalkeeper when his club beat Kilcullen in the 1996 Junior final and was between the posts again a year later when Rheban completed a meteoric rise to senior football by beating Eadestown in the 1997 Intermediate Final.
As a football mad teenager collecting medals along the way, he also won two Minor ‘B’ titles around then, he thought it would always be that way and Rheban challenging at the very top of Kildare football didn’t seem such a fanciful idea.
In 2001 in the Senior Championship, they took on a Clane side who had played in a Leinster Final four years earlier and were only beaten after a replay. O’Shaughnessy remembers it as a great era in the club’s history.
“It was a very good time, a few great players on that team. The Harris’, Pippy Owens. There were a few older lads and then some younger players came in, it was a good bunch of lads.
“The year behind me, the under 16s won an ‘A’ Championship around that time. There was myself, David Renehan, Derek Byrne, a good few minors on the senior team in ’96 and ‘97, we won two Minor ‘B’ titles. There were a couple of 16 year olds on that team, maybe even 15 year olds, that wouldn’t happen now with the rules that are in place.
“We were operating in Division 1 around then so it was great times for the club. We had that draw against Clane, the two Harris’ were going well at that time, Alan Harris gave an exhibition at centre field. Clane had probably six or seven county lads at that time. That was the level we were at, we were competing with the best in the county around then,” said O’Shaughnessy.
But nothing lasts forever and as quickly as Rheban rose through the ranks, they started to drop again. 2002 was their last year in senior and they lasted in intermediate until 2008 before dropping to the lower ranks.
“Around the time we drew with Clane, there were lads getting on a bit, the older lads from the ’96 and ’97 teams were starting to fade away. There was a bit of a downward trend in the underage and there weren’t as many young players coming through. We got relegated and I think we spent six years at intermediate before getting relegated in 2008 to junior. There’s been plenty of dark days since then,” said O’Shaughnessy.
It would have been easy to walk away during the years when wins were scarce but O’Shaughnessy is the kind of clubman who couldn’t leave them stuck in their darkest times.
“I’ve been lucky enough to avoid serious injury and I’ve always managed to keep a decent level of fitness which helps keep me going. There were times when the club was at a low ebb so you always want to drive it on. It’s hard to walk away, especially when you see some good young players coming through, you want to hang on and see where you can go, try to get another medal. I have an understanding wife and family there that allows me to do that,” he said.
Rheban really did hit rock bottom as they struggled at the bottom of the Junior ranks in the years since but ironically enough some of their toughest days have come in recent years when they have been stronger but lost three semi-finals in consecutive years before finally getting over that hoodoo by beating Robertstown.
“We’ve lost three semi-finals in a row so to get over that semi-final stage this year was great in itself. There’s a nice blend there at the minute, there’s a lot of lads, like myself, who have been on the road a long time and Christy Byrne is still going strong there too. There’s some good young players there so it’s nice for them, and some of the older lads who have been playing a long time without getting to a final,” said O’Shaughnessy.
The transfer many years ago of Kildare goalkeeping legend Byrne meant an end to O’Shaughnessy’s goalkeeping days and these days he lines out in the backline.
“I played a bit of outfield for the underage but we always seemed stuck for a goalkeeper so I was always thrown back in there. I put my foot down ten or 15 years ago and said I had enough and wanted to play outfield. Luckily enough Christy transferred into the club and the days of me going back into goal were well and truly over with him there,” he said.
Byrne is now 47 but still a hugely influential member of the team.
“When I was growing up I used to watch Christy playing in goal with Kildare. He managed us for a while too, he has a great head on his shoulders and it’s great to have him there, you can’t buy that kind of experience,” he said.
Rheban will be seen as underdogs in most neutral eyes ahead of Sunday’s final but that is role they are well used to.
“It’s a strong Milltown team, they’ve been knocking on the door for the last few years. They have plenty of experience, they won it in 2008 and I’d say there are a good few of those lads still playing. This is our first final so we are up against it, Milltown were in Division 3 as well and were going very well so the odds are stacked against us,” said O’Shaughnessy.