Kevin Feely making his mark for Lilies

Kevin Feely doesn’t know what better way to put why he waved goodbye on a career across the Irish Sea.

Kildare's Kevin Feely wins possession ahead of Laois's Brendan Quigley in the Leinster SFC quarter-final at O'Connor Park, Tullamore, last month.

Kildare on the other hand? A labour of love. Signed by Charlton Athletic in 2012 from Bohemians, he never made an appearance for the Addicks before a few loan spells, the last of them earning him another contract at Newport County. But his heart was never in it.

“It was never really something that I was overly enjoying. I never had any huge ambitions to do good things in soccer, whereas I would have always looked at Gaelic as something I could achieve things in with Athy and Kildare and that was definitely the main reason behind coming home.”

But for the fact he was being paid, he would have returned earlier than he did in late 2015.

“Probably the money side of things was why I wasn’t home a year or two earlier. I remember thinking I’d love to come home. The summer before I did come home I was thinking I’d love to (return) but I actually can’t afford to.

"The following year and a half that I spent in England was purely for financial reasons. I was doing it to be able to save enough money so that I could come home and finish my college course (athletic therapy, DCU).

“I understand that that’s the completely wrong reason to be playing any sport. I felt at the same time that it had to be done for my own happiness, to be able to come home. It is hard leaving that behind, knowing that there could be a fairly secure living in this for you for a few years.

"But you can’t really put a price on your personal happiness and from talking to my parents and friends I knew that the right decision was to come home.”

Kildare was the beacon that summoned him across the Irish Sea but his first love was Waterford, where he and his younger brother and ex- Kildare minor Rory, who now plies his trade with St Patrick’s Athletic, were raised.

Living in Tramore, their heads were filled with nothing but soccer and hurling.

“I think Waterford were everyone’s favourite team outside of their own team because they were so exciting to watch.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be a soccer player and it wasn’t until I got older that I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was always either professional soccer and if not that then inter-county hurling for Waterford was definitely the next priority.”

The 24-year-old’s soccer clubs in Waterford were Villa and Waterford Crystal, where his father worked, while his contemporaries in the county’s hurling development panels included the Mahonys, Jake Dillon, Darragh Fives and Maurice Shanahan. The Déise are still one of his favourite teams.

“Ah yeah, I’d follow them, very close. I love seeing them do well now. They didn’t perform to their best against Cork but that’s also a Cork team that seems to be coming out of nowhere to be All-Ireland challengers.

"Waterford are such a young team, I think there’s definitely a Munster championship and I think an All-Ireland championship in them, in the next few years. I’d be delighted to see it happen.”

The return of Paddy Brophy, Paul Cribbin, and Daniel Flynn from AFL careers to the Kildare fold has garnered plenty of attention.

Kevin Feely in action for Newport County in the English League Two match against Northampton in 2015.

Another in Seán Hurley could yet reappear in the panel next year should he overcome injury difficulties. But Feely’s impact has been tremendous, his high-fielding exemplary not to mention his free-taking.

Stephen Cluxton will be keen to keep his kick-outs away from him. Feely says: “It’ll be a huge challenge for us trying to force him to maybe go long more often than he has been recently and hopefully make it a bit more of a 50-50 battle because in the last few years, it’s nearly 70/30 in terms of Dublin’s kick-outs. Nearly every single time, they’re guaranteed possession.”

It’s fair to say Feely has made plenty of the mark since its introduction at the start of the year.

“There was a small bit of controversy about it but I couldn’t really see any downside to it. I didn’t see how it was going to slow the game down.

"All I could see was here’s an outlet for teams that maybe want to build a platform higher up the pitch from their kick-outs.

"I think the evidence is there that it’s been creating more of a spectacle in games, less short kick-outs and teams are able to build an attacking platform in the middle third of the pitch, which is brilliant because it doesn’t give massed defences the chance to get back behind the ball.”

With Eoghan O’Flaherty stepping away, Neil Flynn was the obvious choice to take over free-taking duties but that mantle has rested with Feely since mid-March when he fired over five against Down. Seven followed against Clare and Cian O’Neill’s mind was made up for him.

“All our free-takers happened to be injured and then going into the Down game, I would have normally been way down the line but it ended up being I was next in line to have a go at the frees.

"The Down game went well and that brought my confidence way up, in terms of hitting the frees. Then (I) had a couple more decent free-taking performances in the league and once your confidence reaches that level, it becomes a little bit more enjoyable hitting those frees. Whereas the first few times you’re doing it, it’s uncomfortable.

“I was never a free-taker growing up or anything like that. It’s definitely something that takes a bit of getting used to and it requires a certain mindset. I feel like I’m growing into that mindset the more frees I’m taking in competitive matches.”

Feely readily concedes he was overly optimistic about his first senior season last year — “maybe too high, not so realistic”.

Kildare’s poor Croke Park record of late is a source of frustration for him but he senses the big crowd will inspire them.

“You always know when you are playing in Tullamore or Portlaoise or Conleth’s Park, and it’s packed. That always brings the best out of players, I think, and the fact that the atmosphere in those games felt so low and the intensity of the games then as a result were lower.

"I feel like when the intensity is higher, that’s when we play our best football and hopefully with the bigger crowd in Dublin in Croke Park for the Leinster final, it’ll bring that bit more extra intensity out of us.”


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