The Kildare football captain admits the Lilywhites have struggled to move past their league collapse and accepts there is little or no expectation surrounding Jason Ryan’s squad ahead of their Leinster SFC opener against Laois tomorrow.
“At the start of the year, we were playing very well in the O’Byrne Cup. We hit the Down game, the first league game in good form. I think we were four or six points up in the last minute of that game. Cruising. All of a sudden, a bit of a collapse and we didn’t really recover after that,” said Callaghan.
“It’s not somewhere we had imagined or wanted to be on the last day of the league, fighting to avoid relegation. We obviously had hopes of getting back to Division 1.”
Mind you, their efforts haven’t been helped by the decision of emerging talents Sean Hurley and Paddy Brophy to opt for the AFL.
“Even with the players we’ve lost over the last few years to retirement, the likes of Johnny Doyle, Dermot Earley, Brian Flanagan, they’re huge names in Kildare. Then for the younger lads like Sean Hurley and Paddy Brophy to go as well, it’s not ideal.
“It is a bit frustrating as it’s always the best lads that go. We need to have anyone we can get.”
Dismissed as either Leinster contenders or All-Ireland outsiders, Callaghan is keen to capitalise on their underdog status.
“Maybe teams will take their eye off us a bit. Hopefully we can come in under the radar and cause an upset. I know people won’t be expecting us to do anything this summer. But I know the attitude from the players and the management is that we can. Hopefully teams do take us for granted and we can take advantage of that.”
Meanwhile, Laois’s Stephen Attride believes the O’Moore County are advantaged by having a championship game under their belt.
The 17-point victory recorded over Carlow three weeks ago has been consigned to memory now, but the defender is certain Laois have benefited from the visit to Dr Cullen Park.
“We’ve been training well since the Carlow match. We were happy enough with the way things went. We kind of looked at areas of the game that need improvement and we’ve been working on them since the Carlow match.
“I think getting any game in championship is a help to any team. Just getting a run out in championship, getting a feel for it is always a plus.
“Momentum in championship is important. Even from last year’s experience, going through the qualifiers, game after game you build up momentum. Championship football is about winning the next game so it’s very important for us.”