AFTER an eight year absence, the Kildare and District Football League will once again compete in the FAI Oscar Traynor Inter-League Trophy this season.
The league previously had a long standing tradition in the competition but dropped out shortly after the League switched to summer soccer and last entered in 2011.
Once it was decided that the League would be fielding a representative team a manager was needed and it was little surprise that the KDFL turned to Fergal Finn. After an illustrious playing career within the League, Finn has followed in the footsteps of his father, Jim, to become a top class manager. He had a success laden spell with Liffey Celtic in the Senior Division and in the last two seasons has re-energised football in his home town of Kilcullen, leading them to the Division 1 title last year and having already won the Premier Division this year they are just two games away from completing the league season with a 100% record.
“It’s great for the League to be back in the competition and to showcase the talent that is the county. I’m thrilled to be chosen as manager. It’s a nice honour and it’s the next step up from club football. It’s good to get the chance to test yourself against the best,” said Finn.
The draw has yet to be made for the competition but the format will see six Leinster leagues grouped in two groups of three with the top two in each progressing to the knockout phase, an open draw of 32 leagues from all over the country.
Finn, and his backroom team of coaches Brian Collins and Darren Kilbey and goalkeeper coach Freddie Mitchell, have been meticulous in their preparations over the last two months as they sought to pick the best squad possible and he is delighted with the 25 man panel they have put together.
“We watched a lot of games and watched a lot of players. We watched some players three and four times, just to make sure,” said Finn.
“We were in a very good situation, but a very tough situation as well, because at the beginning we identified about 32-34 players in the league. You’d normally expect some sort of fall off from that with players who were either unable or unwilling to commit but luckily for us, and this made our job harder, every player we contacted wanted to play, apart from one and that was simply down to work commitments.
“We had a good idea of what we were looking for in terms of the type of player that we were looking for but we just ended it with a trial game in Athy. We picked two panels and the two coaches managed either team and I just stood back from it on the night. We made the final decision after that, not really based on that trial game but on the work we had done over the previous six or seven weeks,” he said.
When it came to picking those players, Finn already had a style of play in mind and picked his squad to fit into the way that he wants his team to play.
“You have to have a plan,” he said.
“Anybody that knows me or has followed my teams over the last few years will know the way I play, we play mainly on the ground and out from the back. That won’t change. Obviously, we’ll have to have a system that can adapt to games and to opponents. We’ve all moved up a notch from club level here so things will have be done a little differently. Planning will have to be put in place for each game and each opposition. We will look to adapt depending on the opposition but primarily we’ll look to play our own game, which will be on the ground and to play from the back and we have looked at players capable of playing that system. As well as that, we will look to play with a lot of power, a lot of pace, and a lot of hard work,” added Finn.
As well as the squad he has put together, Finn is delighted with the back room he has. Brian Collins is his long term right hand man since their time at Liffey Celtic, he has a longstanding relationship with Freddie Mitchell going back to their playing days in Kildare Town and Kilcullen and although this is Darren Kilbey’s first foray into coaching he has been one of the outstanding players in the League in the last five or six years with Liffey Celtic, Suncroft and Kilcullen. John Berney is the team medic.
“The backroom staff is the best around, I believe. They all want to win and if we didn’t want to do that then there would no point in entering the competition. Professionalism is the main word from the start with this group and from the very start the players have had to realise that this is a step up from what they are used to, in terms of preparation, commitment and also in terms of what they will get back off us as well,” said Finn.
Like any representative team, the challenge for the manager and his backroom team now is to turn a very talented squad into a team and form the bond and team spirit that any successful team has. With Clonmullion and Suncroft meeting in a possible Senior Division league decider on Sunday, as well as potentially upcoming big cup games there is the chance that many of the squad will be playing against each other in highly pressurised games in the next few weeks but Finn doesn’t see that causing any problems.
“It doesn’t matter what sport you are in – soccer, GAA, rugby – when you are playing at county level you are always going to have club rivalries but I really don’t think it will be a problem. We had them together for the first time in the Keadeen Hotel last week for a meeting and there was no problem at all, they were mixing well. There is obviously going to be club loyalties but when we meet there won’t be an issue, we are all under the banner of the Kildare League. These guys will be fine, whatever happens in a game on a Sunday will be put aside that evening and there won’t be a problem when we meet. That’s what has to be done and that’s what will be done. If there are players who can’t adapt to that then they will be the ones with the problem, it won’t be ourselves. But I don’t envisage that being a problem and from what we have seen so far when we have been together, it won’t be. The players know this is a step up from what they have been used to and they have to act accordingly,” said Finn.
With so many important games coming up for much of his squad, Finn is eager to strike the right balance between their club commitments and duties with the Oscar Traynor squad.
“We have, we believe, the best available 25 players in Kildare and it’s up to me to be mindful of the player’s welfare with these games coming up, and also mindful of the clubs because that is still the most important thing. There will have to be some negotiating between myself and the players, and I completely understand that being a club manager myself. When there are big games we’ll sit down and talk to the players and do what is best for the player, and for their club. Everybody has to be a winner here, we are not here to do any damage to the players or the clubs. The nucleolus of the squad is from the top four clubs in the Senior Division so it will just need a bit of cop on from myself to understand the situation. It’s about getting the right balance so that the players are happy, the clubs are happy and that I am happy,” said Finn.
The manager hopes to fit in as many friendly games as possible for his team and their first of those games will be against the Defence Forces on Wednesday 11 September on Athy Town’s pitch. There are no dates as yet for when the competition starts but Finn is hoping for sooner rather than later.
“From my point of view, I’d like the games to come thick and fast. Obviously we are coming to the end of our season so our lads should be that little bit fitter, the sooner the better the games come for us. The more they drag on into November, December, January, we might get caught a little. We have gone for a lot of youth in the squad we have picked, a lot of pace, a lot of fitness, so I wouldn’t be overly worried about the fitness end of it. A lot of these lads are doing their own bit in the gym even when they aren’t playing football so they do look after themselves better now than a couple of years ago.
“But there are no excuses for us now. I have assembled the squad that I wanted and I believe it is a very strong squad and it’s just up to us to do the business on the pitch now,” said Finn.
KDFL Oscar Traynor squad: Aaron Mullins (Rathangan), Darragh Kelly, Colm Murray, Ben O’Dowd, Rob Lee (Kilcullen), Shane Bennett, Dylan Connolly, Martin Brennan, JP McDonagh, Mark Boland, Kevin McDonnell (Suncroft), Ollie Dunne, Keane Cully, Mick Aherne, Shane Reeves, Conor Coady (Monread), John Paul Higgins, Sean Farrell, Keith Higgins (Ballycane Celtic), Mick Lawless, Cody Muhall, Nathan Robinson, Shane Foley (Clonmullion), Josh Sherlock, Adrian O’Connell (Kilcock Celtic).