Johnny Doyle remains optimistic about Kildare's potential
By Cian O’Connell
“There are so many things that influence players,” Johnny Doyle says about trying to translate underage potential into senior success.
A couple of Leinster U20 titles and an All Ireland title at that level in 2018 illustrated the considerable work carried out by Kildare.
Remaining a consistent force at the highest level, though, is the mission Kildare want to accomplish, and Doyle is hopeful.
“We're so lucky in Kildare, I'd be heavily involved with squads, and we'd have huge numbers coming in at U14s, 15, 16s, and if we let all them off, we'd have the same number again. We're really lucky that way.
“You're trying to put them on the right road and give them good habits, the importance of looking after your body. To bridge that gap, even from U20s to senior is a challenge. It's keeping them involved, there's no competition so it's very hard to set up, for want of a better word, a development squad with no competition.
“They're all playing with their clubs, there's league matches week in, week out. Can you pull the best 20 or 30 players to try and bridge that gap, to try and put them on a S&C programme? Do they want to do it? There's colleges, there's work, lads going travelling, and some lads just don't want the lifestyle. So there are so many factors coming into it. It's a challenge.”
Ultimately, Doyle highlights the importance of a balanced lifestyle – between education, work, and sport.
“You spend so much resources, so much time and effort, and not all of them are going to make it, because you don't have the opportunity to,” he adds. “There's no facility to make it, because you can only take a certain number every year that are going to come through.
“The rest are going to go back and hopefully be better club players. But certainly, there's a lifestyle that doesn't suit everybody. You have to be committed. From strength and conditioning, to training, there's a huge commitment level in it now. Not everybody wants that. That's fair enough.
“There is more to life than football. When you're involved in it, it does take over your life, and when you move away, other things come in. Trying to bridge that gap is a challenge for every county, and try to keep as many players. In Kildare, we'd have done that reasonably well.
“We're slowly integrating a lot of players that would have played in U20 All-Ireland finals and we'll continue to develop those lads and keep them in the system as much as possible. And while they are away with their clubs, they're on the radar and they do have programmes to come back, because certainly the strength and conditioning side is a big part of it.
“It's not the be-all and end-all, you have to keep your skills right and at a high level. And obviously playing well for your club. It's just trying to get all those boxes ticked is a challenge, while still trying to look after the 35 lads and have a senior panel. And that's the challenge for every county.”
Does the fact that Galway and Derry made such an impact in the 2022 All-Ireland SFC offer encouragement for a county such as Kildare? “Absolutely, and of course both counties you mentioned had brilliant years and with a bit of luck Galway could have easily got over the line to win an All-Ireland,” Doyle responds.
“It has to be motivation for players and inspiration for players to see that we compete with teams, and it’s just having that bit of luck. But again that’s up to us as management and up to players to make sure that we put ourselves into them positions.
“We were in a strong position in the Mayo game and we didn’t see it out, and that’s the challenge for us. But certainly from when you do see teams like that - and every year a team will hit a grain of form and go maybe where people don’t expect them to go.
“That has to be a motivation for everybody involved. While I’d love it to be Kildare and not Galway winning an All-Ireland, it does give everybody a chance to say ‘look it, we can go on a bit of a winning streak and get a bit of luck and keep lads injury-free and have a strong panel.’ Sure why shouldn’t it be a Kildare or a Cork or whoever? I don't see any reason why it couldn’t be.”
Ultimately Doyle wants Kildare to be more diligent defensively when inter-county action resumes next year.
“The facts are there - we gave away a lot of goals and we just have to stop doing that,” Doyle says. “That's something that has to be, it's the foundation of staying in games - keeping scores to a limit.
“It's certainly one area we're going to have to put a lot of effort into. We felt after the Dublin game that it was a real tough blow to us from that point of view. Certainly that would have improved in the Mayo match. It was still disappointing to give away two goals in that game but certainly that's an area that we're going to have to concentrate on and try to get right.
“A lot of work needed in that area but like any team, you have to get both ends of the field right. It's great putting up big scores and we have done that but letting them in at the back is no good either. It's about getting that balance right.”
Doyle was delighted to be involved in a recent Kildare travelling party to Waterville to visit former Lilywhites manager Mick O’Dwyer.
“It was moreso a group of us the lads involved in management and a few players that would be in regular enough contact,” Doyle explains.
“It is something we were very conscious of, Micko hadn’t been in good health during the summer and it was something we wanted to do go down and have a chat. And it was good going back to Waterville, before the training camps in Portugal and Spain we used to go down to Waterville so there were a lot of good memories.”
On Sunday Clane and Naas contest the Kildare SFC with Doyle recalling a famous 1990 county final at St Conleth’s Park.
“It was great to chat to him he’s as sharp as a razor, he might not be moving as well as he was, but by God the mind is sharp,” Doyle adds.
“He was talking about years ago with Kildare and talking about the county final on Sunday, when Micko was introduced in 1990 it was Clane and Naas and I think more people came to the county final that day to see Micko being unveiled and it was the biggest cheer heard in Newbridge for a long time and he talked about that day. It was great.
“Personally from my point of view Micko gave me a start when a lot of people said ‘where is he going with this lad’ and I’m, grateful for that because he put me on a journey and I had a brilliant time being involved and it was great to get down to have a chat.” Time well spent.