Niall Kelly: 'I wasn’t in the right place to give everything for Kildare this year'

Kelly is sitting this season out. After the guts of 10 years in the set-up, he needed some perspective.
Niall Kelly: 'I wasn’t in the right place to give everything for Kildare this year'

Leinster GAA Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 16/7/2017 Dublin vs Kildare Dublin's Con O’Callaghan with Niall Kelly of Kildare Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Niall Kelly will be in Croke Park today. He will be standing for most of the game, most likely wearing white too. Every sinew of him will strain with the fortunes of his Kildare team but his contribution will stop there.

Kelly is sitting this season out. After the guts of 10 years in the set-up, he needed some perspective. Not that he has called it a day with Kildare or that he assumes Glenn Ryan will come calling again, but for his well-being he had to call a halt.

After a season that earned him the first of two All-Star nominations, Kelly’s friend and Kildare team-mate Daniel Flynn chose to quit in 2019. He returned the following season under Jack O’Connor but only after he rediscovered his appetite for the game.

Flynn told this newspaper in December 2018: “I love playing and I enjoy training but as somebody said to me is the juice worth the squeeze?

“You’re putting all this effort in from December onwards, the slog over Christmas and you’re missing out on family things and times with your friends all for a couple of really good times in the summer. I just want to play football with the club and enjoy myself for a while.” 

It's Kelly who feels that way now. “I spoke to Glenn before Christmas when things were starting back up with Kildare. To be honest, I was at the stage when having gone through a full year of injuries and carrying a bit of a knock coming out of the club championship my head really wasn’t in it.

“What a lot of people may not see is the amount that goes into it between the matches and while at times this year it’s been hard to watch the matches and see the lads get on well there is so much commitment involved that you need to be able to perform at your best and earn your place and I didn’t feel I was in the headspace at the time for what Glenn deserved and the players.

“I remember Daniel speaking about it and to be honest I was probably in the same position. It’s not a decision I think anyone would take lightly, especially when you have given so much to the set-up in the years beforehand. But when you weigh everything up it really is down to your personal circumstances, family, work and friends.

“I wasn’t in the right place to give everything for Kildare this year, which is what you need to be doing. That’s why I made the decision but at the back of it all it is one I was at peace at when I made it and I continue to be happy with it no matter what the result is on Saturday.” 

Kelly has played a lot of football since making his senior debut at the age of 19 in 2013. Long considered one of the cleverest forwards in the county, he was twice acknowledged nationally as an underage footballer.

“If I was going into my first or second season, I’d probably be mad for football. I was weighing up my plan for the year and having been in with Kildare for 10 years essentially I wanted a year of giving it all to the club and having a bit more free time.” 

As Athy sit pretty on top of Division 1, Kelly’s call has been justified. Playing a bank of games has been refreshing for a footballer who has been plagued by injuries over the past 18 months. The club’s 2020 county final victory over Moorefield, their first Bourke Cup in nine years, brought mixed feelings for Kelly as he tore his Achilles tendon with 20 minutes to go.

To return to Kildare colours in a cameo role in last summer’s Leinster final defeat to Dublin was an achievement in itself but it was draining. “There was a lot of rehab and trying to get back on the field. Last year was a patchy one as I was trying to get back on the field as soon as possible and my time on the field was limited.

“It probably didn’t help that it was during Covid. You weren’t really out and about as much and it involved heavy rehab work. But as the evenings got longer and I was able to get playing football again, the mind eased.” 

A development manager with Red Bull in Dublin city centre, Leinster finals these days wash over the metropolis but there is a sense at home that is different to the two provincial deciders he’s lost to Dublin.

“When you’re in the set-up, you’re very much in the circle and trying to ignore the noise outside and I’m sure that’s exactly what the lads are doing. But given the way the year has gone this year, despite relegation from Division 1 there have been a lot of green shoots in the performances in the league and championship.

“I think people in Kildare have more reason to look forward to this Leinster final because of what they’ve seen from the group so far. There is always an expectation and probably a hesitancy not to be too confident because we’re up against Dublin and what they have done in previous years. But I’d be very hopeful the lads will put in a big performance this weekend.

“When you look at the quality of some of the forwards and the moves they put together like those in the Westmeath match it was a joy to watch. The buzz in the county also comes from the minor and U20 teams doing well, winning titles. The overall state of football in the county is good and everything feeds off each other. Hopefully, it’ll result in senior silverware at the end of the day.”

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