Damien Hendy looks for Kildare revival

As a loyal Kildare servant, Damien Hendy has become accustomed to criticism.

Damien Hendy looks for Kildare revival

Damien Hendy had only just begun his inter-county career when he filled in a questionnaire for a GAA publication.

It was garden-variety stuff, concluding with the miscellany of favourite film, music, bathtub companion (the Sam Maguire Cup or Cameron Diaz), likes and dislikes. Under ‘Pet Hates’ he wrote “People who criticise players and don’t know much about football themselves”.

In the course of 10 unbroken seasons as a Kildare senior from 2002, Hendy didn’t experience “as much winning as I’d like; I’ve seen the bad days and good days”.

The brickbats came with that and often they were savage. Now, as a member of management, he is getting it in the neck again, with some of the abuse startlingly venomous in nature.

Hendy won three Sigerson Cups (two with IT Tralee and one with IT Sligo), and in his time in Kerry, played with the famous Currow club of Mick Galwey and Moss Keane. When he returned to Kildare, a number of senior clubs sniffed around but he remained loyal to Castledermot and in recent years, has been heavily involved in coaching a decent crop of underage players.

He became a county U21 selector in his first year of civilian life and accepted Kieran McGeeney’s invite to move up to senior in 2013. He has been there since, remaining under the management of Jason Ryan, who was brought in initially by McGeeney as well.

Two years on, the management have been portrayed by some keyboard warriors as clueless and lacking the qualifications for the job. Nowadays though, Hendy avoids knocking the knockers.

“You get used to it from playing,” he smiles. “I can understand that if you’re going through a bad patch, there’s going to be criticism. That comes with the gig. That can be fair or unfair. I don’t sit around thinking about it every day ‘cos if I did, I’d drive myself mad. But you’re aware of it in the background.

“Sport is like that. Look across the water in the Premiership. Last year, Pellegrini is the best manager and (this year) there was talk he might be gotten rid of. You can go out some days and be a master tactician and the next day you’re clueless. It goes with the territory.

“The main thing for me is try to stay as positive as we can. Try and support the players as best we can. They’re the guys that are going to need it, to dig it out. I’m long enough in the game to know that it swings, so you’ve got to be positive and patient.”

For most of the McGeeney era, he was a bit-part player. Some questioned why he was kept on when second or third choice. Others wondered why he would bother. The answer to the latter, explains the former.

“The big reason is I love football, I love Kildare. I’d be very passionate about it. I like learning. I got to a stage in the last couple of years where I said I was going to do everything for myself obviously but try and give back to the younger players as well. I always had an attitude too of making the best of it while I got the opportunity.

“Anyone that’s been involved in a county set-up will know there’s a huge competitiveness in training and that used to be my kick. Training was my game and the last year or two, my attitude was, whoever’s going to be playing ahead of me is going to earn it. So there’s an element of creating that internal competitiveness which is good for a group.”

He would love to have that now but for a variety of reasons, this is a panel shorn of Johnny Doyle, Dermot Earley, Mick Foley, James Kavanagh, Hugh McGrillen, Ronan Sweeney, Morgan O’Flaherty, Brian Flanagan, Paddy Brophy, Daniel Flynn and Seán Hurley in recent seasons.

Peter Kelly, Darryl Flynn, Mikey Conway and Eoin Doyle have been dogged by injuries and Keith Cribbin is the latest ruled out for the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury. Meanwhile, Tomás O’Connor and Shane Connolly have withdrawn from the squad due to a lack of game time.

Not that Hendy proffers any of this savage disruption as an excuse for being relegated to Division 3 of the league.

“Sport goes up and down. The O’Byrne Cup went okay. We got to the final and we’ve been doing okay in it for a number of years but it’s a pre-season tournament. We would have felt it set us up nicely for the league (but) we lost all our home games and if you do that, you’re going to struggle.

“We went through a bad patch. It happens. We’ve had other years when we’ve had good leagues and bad championships. You have to remain positive and pick it up. We’ll be back up again. You can really only sit back at the end of the year and look at it. So we have to have a good championship.

The players went back to the clubs for a while to shake off the bitter taste of failure in the league and there is nothing like a Laois jersey to stir a Kildare man’s blood. Yet there is a school of thought in the county that they might be better off losing to their bitter rivals, rather than stand in front of the runaway train that is Dublin. Unsurprisingly, he dismisses the notion.

“You can’t go with that attitude. Dublin are one of the best teams in the country at the moment… They’re dominating Leinster at the moment and we’re all struggling to keep up with them but we’re all trying to keep up with them so you can’t just sit back and have the attitude that there’s no point going out. If you went with that attitude, no-one would play sport. They’re going to be tough if you did get that far but I’d like to have the opportunity.

“The league’s over. It’s championship now and we’ve prepared the best we can. Morale seems good. I’d like to think we’ve a good group of lads there. They’re focused and we’ll be giving the championship the best shot we can.”

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