Connolly ready to seize the day
Lilies ’keeper relishing life in championship’s fast lane
PLAYING in only your second championship game can be daunting, but Kildare's fledgling goalie Shane Connolly is unfazed as he prepares to face-off with arch-rivals Meath in Croke Park this Sunday.
This time last year, the 6’4” netminder had failed to make the starting 15 for Kildare's Leinster opener against Louth and agonisingly looked on as his side were stunned by the Wee County.
It marked a low point in his career but instead of settling for club football and mediocrity, he knuckled down and has established himself as Kildare's No1.
“I was left on the bench that day and it was incredibly disappointing,” he said. “My club-mates and friends from St Laurence's were in Spain at the time enjoying a holiday after capturing our first Kildare senior football championship. It was a very lonely place,” he said.
“People kept telling me I had the potential to break into the Kildare team and after that day I decided I had to get the finger out and make a go of it. Thankfully it all worked out.”
Having broken into the side during the O'Byrne Cup and Kildare's Allianz National League campaign, the Narraghmore native got the nod for Kildare's opening championship game of this summer.
The young goalie admits that his debut against Wicklow was one of the proudest moments of his life and he was glad to keep a clean sheet on a largely care-free afternoon.
“The Wicklow game was really the perfect beginning for me. I never had a save to make and only had to take 11 kick-outs which will tell you the level of protection I was getting,” he added.
He can expect to be far busier when the Lilywhites take on a forward line boasting the likes of Joe Sheridan, Cian Ward, Graham Reilly and Stephen Bray. Meath are a team that are experts at finding the net, a point they illustrated last year when they put five goals past Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton.
“It's definitely the biggest game of my life but I don't really get nervous. I never relish the first ball that comes in. Once I deal with that I should be fine,” Connolly said calmly.
“They're a great side that will be on a revenge mission (after last year's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat) but I'm confident we can do it if we stick to our gameplan.”
Adjusting to life as an inter-county footballer has not been easy, but the happy-go-lucky 22 -year-old has taken it in his stride.
“The first few weeks were really tough and it's not easy getting into the routine of training five or six times a week,” he said.
“It becomes second nature after a while and the whole squad knows it has to be done if we're going to be successful.” The man responsible for giving Connolly his chance between the sticks, Kieran McGeeney, has left an indelible mark on the youngster.
“McGeeney means business, he wants to win all of the time, as simple as that, and that rubs off on us,” he said.
“He's fostered a great atmosphere in the camp and everyone is feeling good and ready to go for Sunday.”
Connolly will be hoping his Leinster championship dream continues and his third championship game is in the Leinster semi-final at GAA headquarters on June 26 against the Dubs or Laois.