AT Christmas, GER MCNALLY picked his Kildare GAA football team of the decade but is extending that to pick Kildare’s team of the century century so far. It’s no easy task and there have been plenty of sleepless nights before finalising on this 15 and plenty of excellent footballers and servants to Kildare GAA came close to selection.
1 ENDA MURPHY (LEIXLIP)
Christy Byrne only played for the first couple of seasons in this century so one of Kildare’s all-time great goalkeepers is not considered. Shane McCormack played in an All-Ireland semi-final and both Tom Corley and Shane Connolly had stints that were at times impressive but really the choice is between two men from the north of the county and we are going to pick Enda Murphy just ahead of Mark Donnellan. The Leixlip man bided his team as Byrne’s understudy but eventually got his chance and took it with both hands. Finally made his Championship debut in 2002 and went on to play in 25 of Kildare’s next 26 Championship games which brought him up to the end of Kieran McGeeney’s first season in 2008. He played in Leinster finals in 2002 and 2003 and went to Australia for the 2003 International Series. An unflappable and reliable presence between the posts, he transmitted an air of confidence to the defenders in front of him.
2. PETER KELLY (TWO MILE HOUSE)
Kelly’s rise to prominence in 2010 reads like something out of a storybook. He only made his debut in the last league game of that season but by the end of the year he had won an All-Star after shining in a team that almost reached an All-Ireland Final. A tight marking defender, Kelly is known for not giving his man an inch. Since making his debut, has gone on to play 92 League and Championship games for his county and were it not for injuries severely hampering his 2014 and 2015 seasons he would be well over 100 appearances by now. Battled back from those injuries and enjoyed probably his best season since his All-Star year in 2018, a season in which he scored more points in the rest of his Kildare career combined. Brian Lacey was considered here but played only the first three years of this century.
3. MICK FOLEY (ATHY)
A player who filled in a variety of roles during his ten years with Kildare but it’s probably his All-Star year in 2011 at full back for which he is best remembered.
After winning a Leinster U21 title in 2004, he made his senior Championship debut at centre back that summer and for a while was earmarked as Glenn Ryan’s successor but settled at full back under Kieran McGeeney in 2009.
Injury disrupted his 2010 but he came back in 2011 and a string of outstanding displays earned him the ultimate individual honour. Played in midfield in 2012 and was one of the team’s real leaders during the second half of McGeeney’s era.
Ronan Quinn and Hugh McGrillen were in the running for the number three jersey but it’s Foley who gets our pick.
4. ANDRIÚ MACLOCHLAINN (ELLISTOWN)
McGrillen, or Ollie Lyons, could have got the pick for the second corner back position but our pick is the ultra consistent Andriú MacLochlainn.
Played in the 2003 Leinster Senior final before captaining the U21s to Leinster glory in 2004.
Hit his peak under Kieran McGeeney and he became Kildare’s most trusted man marker during that spell.Was outstanding during 2010 and 2011 in particular.
Scored just one point in 88 League and Championship games but in many ways that sums him up. Not a player who looked for the limelight, he simply got on with his job, which was usually marking the opponents’ best player, something he did very well.
5. ANTHONY RAINBOW (SUNCROFT)
Says much about Rainbow that a player who made his debut in 1990 was still part of Kieran McGeeney’s squad in 2010. Played 159 games for his county and although you could argue his best days were in the 90s, he was still a key player for Kildare during the first part of the decade. The levels of Rainbow’s fitness and ability to get up and down the pitch have gone into folklore and he broke the heart of many a wing forward with his non-stop running. Won a Leinster title in 2000 and played in the 2002 but was sadly missed in the 2003 decider because of injury. Played for Ireland in the 2000 International Series and went on the 2001 tour to Australia and the esteem in which he is held was shown when some of the best players in the country came to Newbridge in 2010 for his testimonial. Would have claims for a place on an all-time Kildare GAA team and is rightly remembered as one of the greats.
6. GLENN RYAN (ROUND TOWERS)
One player definitely on any all time great Kildare GAA team would be Glenn Ryan. There’s no doubting that he played his best football in a Kildare jersey in the 90s but even in the early part of this century he was a forceful presence at the heart of Kildare’s defence. Captained the 2000 Leinster winning side and came on as substitute in the 2002 and 2003 finals. The cliche about a player who would run through a brick wall for his team could have been invented for Ryan. This was a true warrior who put his team winning before thoughts of his own health and welfare on many occasions. Images stick in the mind of an exhausted Ryan making his off the field on so many occasions with a torn shirt covered in blood, sometimes his and sometimes somebody else’s. He set the standard of commitment and willingness to do whatever it takes to win the game for his team. One of the greatest leaders of the modern era in the GAA, he would of course captain this team.
7. EMMET BOLTON (EADESTOWN)
9-43 in 110 League and Championship games would be a decent return for a forward but it’s exceptional for somebody who spent his career at wing back. An absolute model of consistency, after making his Championship debut in 2007 he went on to play in 54 of Kildare’s next 55 Championship games, missing just one game in that time. A man for the big occasion, came up with some hugely important scores and was one of key players during McGeeney’s era. He had an engine to match Rainbow on the other flank and it would have been some sight to see both in their prime in the same team. Went on the 2011 tour to Australia with the Irish squad for the International Series.
8. DARYL FLYNN (MOOREFIELD)
We picked Kevin Feely and Fergal Conway as the midfielders on our team of the decade but when we get to include the 2009 season then Flynn just about gets nod over that excellent pair. It’s often joked around Newbridge that it was Flynn who won the 2009 All-Star award for Dermot Earley and often a true word is spoken in jest. Not was Earley wasn’t brilliant in that year, more on him shortly, but there was a perfect balance in their partnership as Earley enjoyed his Indian summer. Another player who had no thoughts of making headlines, his only job was to give the protection to the defence to allow other players pour forward. There was hardly a better midfield partnership in the country than him and Earley in 2009 and into 2010. After Earley’s injury in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final pretty much the last player that Kildare wanted to see pick up an injury in the semi-final against Down was Flynn and we could only wonder what might have happened had he stayed on the field for that game.
9. DERMOT EARLEY (SARSFIELDS)
One of the undisputed all time greats of Kildare GAA, and the yet there is the feeling that he could have been even better were it not for bad luck with injuries. Had such expectations on his shoulders when he broke into the team in the late 90s but even as a teenager never looked out of place in the one of the greatest Kildare teams of all time. Scored the first goal in the second half of the 2000 Leinster final replay, sparking the most amazing comeback in Kildare GAA history and he went on to play in the 2003 decider as well. Injuries held him back during the middle of the noughties but he enjoyed a remarkable return to form during the early part of Kieran McGeeney’s tenure. Was probably the best midfielder in the country in 2009, deservedly adding a second All-Star to one he had won in 1998, and was very unlucky not to at least win a Leinster title that year. Nobody who was in Newbridge in 2010 on the evening that he played for his county on the same day of his father’s funeral will ever forget that emotionally charged occasion. Injury came back to haunt him early in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final and the loss of him and Flynn just proved too much for that team to take, but he again showed his character by returning from that injury to play a part in the 2012 season.
10. PADRAIG O’NEILL (ST LAURENCES)
Mr. Consistent. Mr. Reliable. O’Neill may have been the unsung hero on many Kildare teams but nobody who managed him or played alongside him ever underestimated his ability or his importance to the team. Whether in midfield or the half forward line, O’Neill played a key role with ability to link defence to attack and was was also very capable of kicking spectacular long range scores. Made 123 League and Championship appearances for his county and was one of the first names on the teamsheet for McGeeney.
11. EAMONN CALLAGHAN (NAAS)
No player has played more games for Kildare than Callaghan, a remarkable return considering that his career looked in jeopardy at one stage due to a succession of injuries. Made his Championship debut as a substitute in the 2003 Leinster final and went on to start the following year as a corner back. Played in almost every outfield position for Kildare during his 161 League and Championship appearances but like many on this team, was in his peak during McGeeney’s time. Scored a goal in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final and an unforgettable 1-1 late in the 2011 Leinster semi-final against Dublin. A Rolls Royce of a player who could pretty much do it all on a football field. Was on the 2011 International Series trip to Australia and nominated for an All-Star that year.
12. RONAN SWEENEY (MOOREFIELD)
Some very tough competition for this position with James Kavanagh and Eoghan O’Flaherty very unlucky to miss out but we’ve given our number 12 jersey to Sweeney. It could be argued that he never quite hit the heights in a white jersey that he did for his club but he was a real leader of men. Won a Leinster title in his debut season in 2000 and went on to make 127 League and Championship appearances for Kildare, scoring 10-61. A very consistent performer, he had a brilliant season in 2009 when he scored 1-7 in six Championship games. Also spent time as a selector under Cian O’Neill.
13. TADHG FENNIN (CASTLEMITCHELL)
Alan Smith’s blistering summer of 2009 certainly put him in the frame for this position but as a player who scored three goals in two Leinster finals, Fennin has to get the nod.
His goal in the 2000 Leinster final completed that never to be forgotten comeback and his two goals against Dublin in 2002 would have assured him of all-time legendary status had Kildare gone on to win.
Lightning fast and with an eye for goal, he scored 18 in League and Championship games, no defender ever had an easy day when Fennin was on the pitch.
14. DANIEL FLYNN (JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE)
A player with the eye for the spectacular, games are rarely boring when Daniel Flynn is on the field. Scorer of some of the best goals ever seen scored by a Kildare player, it would be a tough job to pick his best. He was twice nominated for an All-Star and i particular had an outstanding 2018 Championship season when he scored four goals in seven games and Kildare always had a chance when he was on the field. Left himself off the squad for the 2019 season but was set to shine again in 2020 before Coronavirus struck.
15. JOHNNY DOYLE (ALLENWOOD)
After the torture of trying to pick this team with many of the decisions almost coming down to the toss of a coin, the easiest decision is left until last. Johnny Doyle was not only Kildare’s best player this century, it could be argued that he is the best player of any era. It’s hard to say anything about his legendary career that has not been said already. Won a Leinster title during his debut season in 2000 and went on to 67 Championship games without ever missing one and at one stage, scored in 50 successive Championship games during that period.
He would always say he was the most naturally gifted of players, he didn’t make the Kildare minor team, but through his sheer will and commitment turned himself into one of the best players in the country at his peak and one of Kildare’s greatest every players. Scored 23-579 in 159 League and Championship games.