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Sunday 19 November 2017

Kildare now starting to enjoy the benefits of their prodigal sons

Paddy Brophy. Photo: Sportsfile
Paddy Brophy. Photo: Sportsfile

If Cian O'Neill's management of Kildare has been productive, his timing has been exemplary also.

In October 2015, he was appointed manager to some surprise and much local celebration.

His work with Kerry would, it was predicted beforehand, preclude him from such a return.

A month earlier, Kevin Feely's contact with Newport county was cancelled by mutual agreement so he could return to full time education, his home and his first sporting love.

Homesickness

In January, homesickness finally got the better of Daniel Flynn and he left the last few months of a two-year contract in Port Adelaide behind him.

Daniel Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Cribbin, who spent a brief stint at Collingwood, was just beginning to re-establish himself as one of Kildare's most reliable performers and then in May, against all expectations, Paddy Brophy came back.

If Kildare were waiting for a sign of Brophy's enthusiasm to re-immerse himself into gaelic football after almost three years in Australia, they got one within 24 hours.

Brophy's plane landed in Dublin airport on a Friday morning at the start of May.

On the Saturday afternoon, he played for 20 minutes for Celbridge against Round Towers in the first round of the county championship.

"That was his signal of intent that 'I want to get back into the game I love'," notes Kildare Cian O'Neill and as it went, fortune would fall Brophy's favour too.

Paul Cribbin, brother of another of Kildare's former AFL players, Keith, picked up what O'Neill described as a "freak," and "cruel," foot injury only detected the week of their Leinster semi-final clash with Meath in Tullamore.

Paul Cribbin. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Cribbin. Photo: Sportsfile

Hence, Brophy benefited in the rejig, his 21st Championship appearance for Kildare but his first since their August 2014 All-Ireland exit to Monaghan in Croke Park.

It brought the number of ex-pros in the Kildare team that blitzed Meath to four.

A fifth, Seán Hurley, stepped away from the squad in February to fully correct a nagging hip injury that had curtailed his two-year stint in Australia with Freemantle Dockers, the club who released him last August.

"That's five guys who have all experience professional sport at a high level," as Feely points out.

"I'd say that's been a huge factor in having all those guys fit and available to us in our improvement this year."

Significantly, none were available for various reasons to O'Neill a year previously when they surrendered a six-point lead and lost to Westmeath by one.

Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin Feely. Photo: Sportsfile

"Effectively, we went into that semi-final last year with none of those players," O'Neill observed.

"And they all bring something unique to the setup.

"Be it from their AFL careers or Kevin from his pro soccer career. There's no question, they're strong leaders."

O'Neill has seen both sides of it.

He was part of the Kerry management team when Tommy Walsh returned to the county fold and he was there when the 2009 All Star left the squad having failed to make the expected impact.

"He didn't lose touch with the game as such," O'Neill says of Brophy.

Phenomenal

"That being said to transition back in as quickly as he has has been quite phenomenal."

"You'd like to think that these guys bring home the learnings from their experiences abroad, the professionalism that they've adopted," he adds.

"I think we've just been blessed with some exceptional players. And you have to remember, why were they out there in the first place?

"The reason is because they were exceptional players before they went."

"The fellas in question," O'Neill adds, "Kevin, Paddy, Paul, Daniel, every one of them have brought something different to the setup this year."

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