A 28-year-old quitting the game sounds premature but O’Flaherty was spent. “The lads were going back training last October but I wasn’t in a position to give the commitment that was required. Cian said I could go away and come back to him in a couple of months for a chat and we did have a chat. But I still didn’t feel as if I could do what the guys inside were doing and it was best to stay away from it. He said he would see how I got on with the club and that’s how we left it.
“I’d be lying if I said it was anything other than a lack of appetite. You’re going into pre-season training and it just wasn’t there for me. I thought I might come back after a few weeks or months and I was given the space but I never felt the urge and, look it, both parties are happy that it was a right choice for me.
“The team have had a good league campaign and a solid first-round win. It was just an appetite thing, nothing that was happening in my personal life or anything. I was just a bit unhappy with how I went personally last year and collectively it wasn’t a great year last year either.”
Not even seeing Kildare returning to Division 1 has convinced the Carbury man that he might have been premature in ending his inter-county pursuits. “To be honest, it hasn’t come back to hit me with regret and saying to myself, ‘what if I did go back in?’ I haven’t really thought about that and it confirms to me that I made the right decision for myself. I’ve been to a number of games and been happy in the stand. I’m still in touch with a few of the lads and I’m wishing them the best of luck but I’m captain of my own club this year and we’ve plenty of games and I’m happy with that.”
O’Flaherty doesn’t want to be a warning to younger players — he wholeheartedly enjoyed his time. If anything, the demands on time aren’t as much as they used to be but the inter-county game still asks a lot.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as some people might think. I’d say we did more training four or five years ago than the lads do now. We did extra nights under Kieran (McGeeney) when we were training five or six nights whereas in the last couple of years they want to ensure lads aren’t overloaded and they are monitored more carefully.
“There are a lot of meetings. You could be in two hours, two-and-a-half hours of meetings a week involving video analysis and that is probably the hardest thing for players to get used to. It takes up a lot of time before and after training but it’s not as if the training is all that different to your club, maybe one extra night. If you really don’t want to be there, it will show. If you want to be competing every night in training for a place you have to be happy and really want to be there.”
At the same time, O’Flaherty’s love of Kildare has not diminished. Nothing will stop him being in O’Moore Park tomorrow. “I’m a big supporter of Kildare, have been since I was five or six and being brought to games like the ones in ’97, ’98, and 2000. I’m looking forward to this game. There are a lot of the team at a great age and apart from being good footballers they are all determined to get better.
“That to me is the difference this year — Kildare are playing better football now. There is pace coming from everywhere. The backs are tight and they’re just that 10% or 15% improved from last year. Having a few players back from injury like Paul Cribbin and Daniel Flynn is obviously a huge boost to the team. Guys like that have the X factor and you can’t afford to be missing them even for a game. That and the players getting to know Cian more and how he wants to play has really helped. Kevin Feely also has an extra year under his belt after turning away from soccer and he has probably been the best player for Kildare this year.”
O’Flaherty scored five points when Kildare downed Meath in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final and three the following season when they again won the bragging rights in a Leinster quarter-final. He too was on the Lilywhites side that lost to Meath in 2012 and came on when the Royals were five points better in ’14. Much has changed since those games, he senses.
“If you look at the team sheets now there are not too many lads playing that would have been there then. Four or five at the most on each team so they’re fresh and there will be a better atmosphere to the game than had it been played in Croke Park,” he said, predicting that
“We’re in for a bit of a scorefest. Exciting and close.”