Experienced defender Peter Kelly has insisted Kildare can be a major force in 2019, even without Daniel Flynn, though he conceded they need to work on their mental strength.
Attacker Flynn, an All-Star nominee in both 2017 and 2018, has taken a year out to study and travel and is a high-profile absentee from Cian O’Neill’s 39-man panel for the new season.
Niall Kelly, another experienced forward, is also unavailable though Flynn’s absence will be most sorely felt after establishing himself as one of the best in the game.
Former All-Star Kelly said the flipside is that they’ve got some terrific new talent with O’Neill including 10 of the players that lined out in August’s All-Ireland U20 final win over Mayo.
Jimmy Hyland, a starter against Galway in the National League before winning the U20 Player of the Year award, is included along with Ben McCormack who left the panel last April due to work commitments.
“We have incredibly talented footballers,” said Kelly, who’ll play for Two Mile House in Saturday’s AIB Leinster club IFC final. “Some of them have been there with professional (AFL and soccer) teams, there are not many Dublin players that have been in professional set-ups, maybe one or two. Those guys are great around the dressing-room, the experience they’re bringing to us,” he said in reference to the likes of former soccer star Kevin Feely and ex-AFL exports, Paul Cribben and Paddy Brophy.
“There’s nothing lacking man for man, talent wise. I think it’s just mentality, to believe you’re good enough and to finish a game out. That’s why I think the Dubs’ mental strength is just incredible. They never panic. No matter if they’re winning or losing with 10 minutes to go, they still believe they’re going to win. Ultimately then it happens. They’re just so comfortable within themselves.”
Kildare were relegated from Division 1 of the league earlier this year and followed that up by crashing out of the Leinster Championship to Carlow.
They also suffered four defeats in the Championship though, in between, enjoyed a thrilling qualifier campaign that climaxed with a huge win over Mayo in Newbridge.
“You obviously have your Dublins and Kerrys, I suppose Mayo have been considered a top-three team then also,” said Kelly. “They’d been in finals the last few years and we showed that we can beat them. Monaghan are a top-five or top-six team as well and that game could have went either way in the Super 8s.
“The way the Kerry game worked out, we played unbelievably in the first-half but the second-half just got away from us. We had a man sent off and we were always going to be up against it. We know we’re there or thereabouts.
“Dublin are setting the standard at the moment and we just have to get to their level. I think we have the players at the moment but we just need to get that winning mentality.
“Coming from Kildare, you kind of always say: ‘Oh, Kerry, Mayo, Dublin...’ you kind of put them up on a pedestal almost but there’s no reason for that.
“We have the same facilities as them, we have the same players as them, so there’s no reason why we can’t build and go a step further this year.”
Kildare lost the 2017 Leinster final to Dublin by nine points though after a poor first 20 minutes matched Jim Gavin’s side for the remaining 50 or so.
“Sometimes you can get really close, then they can turn it on,” Kelly said of the four-in-a-row All-Ireland winners. “It’s hard to put a finger on it, are they just that good or is it our lads not believing and saying to themselves: ‘Jeez, these lads are so good, we can’t beat them’.
“It’s a tough one. They’re setting a standard and it’s up to the rest of the teams in Ireland to get up to that. I think man for man we have the footballers in Kildare. I don’t think we are that far away but it’s building that mentality where we can get everyone on the same wavelength believing we can beat these teams.”