Friday, January 29, 2021

In this week’s Kildare Nationalist we feature Part 1 of our extensive interview with Kildare All-Star defender, Peter Kelly of Two Mile House. 

By Pat Costello

HE started it all you know, this retirement lark. Back in September. Since then, a number of Kildare footballers and a hurler as well as a plethora of players from the likes of Mayo, Kerry, Dublin and Kilkenny, to name but a few, have followed suit.

Peter Kelly celebrates “Newbridge or Nowhere” Photo: INPHO

This week we sat down with All Star, Peter Kelly and talked retirement, his playing days, Kildare Managers and the future for the Lilywhites.

Pat Costello:  Peter, I suppose our first question is why did you decide to retire now?

Peter Kelly: To tell you the truth, before last season started, before Christmas last year (2019) I had decided I was going to call it a day before Jack came in. It just seemed the time was right for me as old injuries were catching up on me. I had struggled through the season even with the club as well. My knees and hamstrings, on which I had a few bad injuries, were paining me and that made my mind up.

I didn’t go back in initially when Jack came in but then Tom Cribbin met up with me and asked me to come back in and to be part of the setup as there would be exciting times ahead. So, I said I’d give it one more go.

I played, I think, three out of the five games in the league and at the start it was going alright but then the pandemic hit and we were training away by ourselves. When things started to get going again Jack had said, in fairness, that the panel for the championship would be based on club performances. He actually rang me then, just when we were going back in, and said that numbers had to be curtailed because of Covid restrictions. He said he knew I was on the way out so he told me he was going  with young lads. So be honest with you (laughs), I’m not going to lie about it, but the decision was made for me but it would have been my last hurrah anyway.

PC Did you consult with anybody either before the original decision in 2019 or the final decision last year?

PK I didn’t to be honest with you. I had it in my head playing through the year that this was it. The body was coming near the end of playing at that level. You can tell yourself when you’re a little bit off and you can’t push yourself as hard anymore and there’s younger lads coming in. I had it made up in my own head as I wanted to have a few years at the end to give to the club.

Players can go on and on for years and years.  It is hard to step away but I really wanted to have a couple of good years with the club as opposed to going back in and be a bit part player and then not able to give your all to the club.

PC: Although there is no training at the moment that you might miss, are you happy with the decision you have made?

PK: Oh, absolutely yeah. I have no regrets at all. Yeah, you do miss it. It’s the most elite level you can play at in Gaelic football but it was all consuming for 10 or 11 years; it was my life in a way.

The only thing about it is that since I retired, I haven’t had the chance of doing the things I missed out on, which is ironic enough.  I went through a period of time of not being able to go on summer holidays or going for weekends away with friends or family or my girlfriend, but I haven’t got to live a little bit that I might have liked to because of the restrictions.

There are times when you miss it but I enjoy being back around the club, I’m just five minutes away from the pitch. The long meetings are over and analysing videos etc so it’s more enjoyable at the moment though.

PC: What might your highlights be for club and county?

PK: I had plenty of highlights with Two Mile House anyway. We had a few really good runs. Winning an All-Ireland Junior title has to be up there, that was incredible. Very few people get to do that with their club. However hard it is to win with your county there are a lot more clubs in Ireland than there are counties so it’s even tougher again.

Becoming a senior club, a couple of years ago was also massive. It’s not something growing up I would have thought that, as a small rural junior club, we would have been contesting with the likes of Moorefield and Sarsfields. It was really special as well. Even getting out of the junior ranks was good as we were there for so many years and many times we lost so we got the monkey off our backs then and went from strength to strength

From a Kildare perspective making my debut was a special day to me but from another perspective it was also Dermot Earley’s father’s funeral. It was a massive day, a cauldron before the days when capacity was curtailed in Newbridge; a packed house with well over 10,000 there. It was such an emotional day for everyone involved and for me to be making my debut on that day was unreal. I had only come into the panel in March or April of that year and didn’t feature in the first championship game. Then we had the whole run that year and getting to the All-Ireland semi-final; it was one of the best years of my career.

As regards individual matches, the Mayo match was massive. We don’t beat the top sides too often unfortunately. The week that was in it, Newbridge or Nowhere, it was a match that, regardless of the result, was massive.

There was a sort of freedom in the team, everyone just went out and played football; there was no pressure. The pressure was all built up in the media all week so we just went out on the pitch and released it. It was the one time playing for Kildare over the years that we showed the performance we could put in so that was one of the highlights of my career.

PC: How did the players manage to keep themselves away from the limelight in that particular week?

PK: It was probably good management to be honest with you. Cian O’Neill dealt with all of that side of things. Cian just said the match was going to be in Newbridge or else it’s not happening so we just had that focus.  It’s probably one of the only times we took a stand as normally Croke Park would come in and dangle the money over you and say it’s going to be held in Croke Park or whatever. A lot of times, unfortunately, County Boards would take the bait. I think it was the coming of age of the team, we knew the performance was in there and it just came out.

PC: Was it a disappointment then, in some respects, that you didn’t build on the performance of that game?

PK: Huge, yeah, to be honest. As I said it was the performance that we knew was in us and it came out that day but unfortunately, we didn’t back it up again. Looking back over the 10 years it was probably the story of my Kildare career. We kind of blew hot and cold. Even within games themselves we’d be outrageous for half an hour in a game and then throw it away. There were a good few game over the years when we were winning or had it won and then threw it away. That was an example that year as well when we didn’t back it up with another performance on top of that. We’d steamroll a few teams in a row and then kind of flop; that’s the story of Kildare football at the moment. It’s just a complete lack of consistency.

PC: Was that ever analysed among the players, like, and I don’t mean this in any disrespectful sort of way, asking what’s wrong with us?

PK: Yeah; that was one of the main questions over the years. There were player meetings, team meetings, all sorts of meetings every year, you know, and you could have those three or four times a year trying to analyse our performance but we never did come up with the answers, unfortunately.

At the moment with the Dublin dominance, I’d say every team is having these meetings, asking what are we doing wrong or how can we do it but I don’t think any team has come up with the answers yet. Look, there was no reason ever for it. We always knew it was this lack of consistency and it differed from performance to performance but I suppose you think you come up with the answers but then when you don’t back it up with the performance. It never worked out.

PC: Apart from that inconsistency that you mention would there therefore be lowlights during your career, maybe that famous Down game in Croke Park?

PK: That was one of the major disappointments over the years. We were slow enough to start in that game but we did perform at least and we were there or thereabouts at the end. There was nothing to say we were going to go on and win it either though.

I suppose over the years there were lots of lowlights. Possibly the Carlow match sticks out. It was one of the worst to be honest with you. It was probably the pinnacle of a lot of their lads’ careers. It was a perfect storm for them, everything worked out for them.

They probably rattled us from the start and they had their defensive strategy but you have to put the scores on the board to bring them out of their shell.  I think we missed 1-3 or 1-4 at the start of the game, a penalty and two frees. That could have been the difference in that game. They would have had to come out of their shell and go for scores which they didn’t have to, ultimately.

Yeah, that was definitely a lowlight. I don’t know if embarrassing is too strong a word and I don’t want to disrespect their players either. They worked very hard for it but it was a low point in my career.

Apart from games I had maybe two hard years with injuries as well. After 2010, my first year, I missed the entire season in 2011 with a cruciate injury and that was a particularly tough year. There were a couple of years under Jason Ryan as well when I lost count of the number of times I tore both hamstrings. They were tough years when you are trying to battle back, you’re very isolated. You’re going over to Hawkfield every Tuesday and Thursday but you know you’re not going to be playing. They were tough years.

PC: Is it more of a mental thing as much as a physical thing trying to come back from injuries like that?

PK: As I say it’s tough. You’re there and the lads are training but you’re working away by yourself most of the time. You’re still putting in all the effort but you’re not getting any of the rewards in regards to game-time or being able to tog out so it’s a real psychological battle with yourself. Driving over to Hawkfield and thinking I don’t want to go here. There was probably a year or year and a half when I was probably a professional rehab, you know. You do everything you are told; you get the hamstrings back up to full strength and you go back out and they tear again but thankfully I got over it.

PC: What are you like when you are out injured?

PK: Probably a bit narky! You get out on the pitch and even if it’s just training never mind a match and it’s a bit of a relief especially when you’re in the habit of doing it so it’s very frustrating to do kind of monotonous exercises. Tough going.

PC: You played under four Managers, Kieran McGeeney, Jason Ryan, Cian O’ Neill and Jack O’Connor. Maybe this is an unfair question but would you have had a favourite or did they all have their strengths and weaknesses?

PK: I suppose like every human being they all had their strengths and weaknesses but they were all a little bit different, and that’s from my perspective. Jason Ryan said it to me at the end of his tenure that we didn’t really have that much of a relationship because I was injured so much during his time. I missed most of his two years. I was a sub for most of it even when I was fit as I was only coming back from injury.

Kieran McGeeney gave me my chance so I would have very fond memories of that time and we had a lot of success as well. We got to three or four championship quarter finals and a semi-final but looking back on his days they were crazy times as well with the level of training and how tough it was.

It was probably the toughest training of all my career. When Cian came in, he has a PhD in the area, so he was very scientific in his approach and he had a very professional set up as well. I enjoyed that too in fairness and we had relative success

Then Jack came in and I was probably only in three months with Jack but again a very different approach, more old school, a real football man and he leaves the rest of the analytic side of things to other members of the Back Room team

I enjoyed my time under all of them to be honest with you, all had very different approaches to training and very different approaches to analysing the game. I wouldn’t say I had a particular favourite; they all had their pros and cons really.

Part Two of the Peter Kelly interview will appear in next week’s Kildare Nationalist.

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