Lilies keen to bloom early
IF Eoin Doyle was just a year younger, he'd surely have been another shiny, multi-functional cog in the awesome 2013 Kildare under-21 machine.
As it was, he had to suffer the ignominy of going out to Offaly in the first round of Leinster in his final season at the grade in 2012, understandably a far less celebrated achievement in Kildare.
Yet he ghosted onto Kieran McGeeney's panel without much fanfare or expectation, and by the time they played their first championship match of the summer, Doyle – a Naas man – was there in the chosen starting 15.
He missed the Meath defeat, a low of unexpected proportions, but came back into the team for their breathless extra-time win over Limerick in Portlaoise.
And any end-of-term report for the man newest to seniordom in the Kildare ranks would likely have featured the words: consistent, steady and dependable in a championship, when Kildare suffered droughts in those qualities on big, big days.
Now, with the county about to explode with the dynamite of under-21 fever, and the seniors in a League semi-final in their first crack at the top-flight of the McGeeney era, Doyle is more than justifying his presence, even if the battle to wear the Lilywhite jersey this summer is about to get a whole lot more ferocious.
"It's the number of games. It's the quality of the opposition you are playing," he notes of this year's League, his first entire spring campaign since joining the Kildare seniors after the U21 exit last year.
"We're happy to be playing in Division 1 and happy to be staying here for next year.
"Hopefully we can win our semi-final and that will put us in good stead for Offaly in the summer.
"They have come up in their division under Emmet McDonnell, who has done a lot of work in the schools in Edenderry and the players have responded well to him, so we'll have to make sure we are ready for them in the championship."
Having seen the under-21s at close quarters, Doyle reckons that they are "more than capable of winning," their own All-Ireland title, although he isn't taken with the thesis on their size being their most saleable asset.
"I don't think conditioning is the reason they are there," he states. "They are a talented group of lads and that's why they are there. Some of them are very big and some of them are very skillful, but they have that mixture and are well able to come up to senior level.
"They have all been playing senior with their clubs for a number of years.
"When you have the skill and the pace which those lads do, size doesn't really mean a whole lot."
Another development in Kildare is Jason Ryan's attachment to the management team.
By all accounts too, he has been central, vocal and influential, both in training and on match days and Doyle is quick to praise both he and fellow new addition Damien Hendy for "bringing fresh ideas and a new way of doing things that has been beneficial to us so far".
Like Ryan and Hendy, Doyle wasn't around for the Tyrone defeat last year on the first day of the League and didn't play when Kildare turned the tables on Mickey Harte's men in the Division 2 final in Croke Park last April.
But he was there in St Conleth's Park when Tyrone came, all verve and vigour last month and he accepts now that they "gave an exhibition of football".
"They are serious opposition," he adds. "I don't even think you have to play them to actually realise how good they are.
"Last year in the first round of the League they beat the lads in Division 2 fairly comprehensively.
"Luckily enough we got the win against them in the Division 2 final but then this year they came up to Newbridge and gave an exhibition of football.
"And whilst we had chances to win the game, we didn't win it so that is something we will want to put right at the weekend.
"But I don't think the games in the past are going to make an awful lot of difference to what is going to happen on Sunday. It's a new game, new players on the pitch," Doyle concludes.