ALL-IRELAND SFC ROUND 2B:
Down v Kildare
Some people dream in vivid technicolour, but not Tommy Moolick.
For as long as he can remember, the Leixlip man’s been black and white, which isn’t to say they paled in comparison.
Senior ball with Kildare was all he thought of. Wearing that distinctive white strip with only the faintest hint of black. It wasn’t so much a choice as an inevitability, an extension of a family’s rite of passage.
His brother Patrick played minor and U21 and spent time with the seniors under Padraig Nolan. His sister Maria skippers the Kildare senior ladies and Sunday evenings are still a source of collective communion for them at the altar that is The Sunday Game.
Tommy’s big break came at the beginning of the 2011 season. He walked into training at Newbridge on his tod that night, a blinking Bambi of a kid looking to find his feet, only to plonk himself down in the groove reserved for one of the county’s finest.
“I think it was Mick Foley’s seat. He just kind of looked at me and I said ‘I better get out of here’,” Moolick recalled this week. “He had an All Star and I was saying ‘oh no’. Wherever you sat it was someone’s.”
Fionn Dowling was in the same boat, another callow teenager looking agog at men like Dermot Earley and Johnny Doyle, awed by the thought that they were now inhabiting the same stratosphere as these boyhood idols.
Such an elite environment demands an accelerated rate of maturity if the experience isn’t to be a fleeting one.
“Within the dressing room it’s don’t be afraid,” said Moolick on his most important lesson. “Don’t be afraid to express yourself on the football pitch and the dressing room because you are as much a part of the team as everyone else.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s John Doyle or Emmet Bolton or Eamonn Callaghan, they still value your opinion and you are training together. It’s [important] to back yourself and the lads will actually respect you more for that.”
Doyle and Earley are among a number of senior players of a recent vintage no longer dominating the Kildare locker room. A more youthful and, consequently, less assured squad has emerged.
Moolick and Dowling were among the half-dozen players from the 2012 U21 Leinster champion-winning side to start against Meath in the Leinster semi-final when a disastrous third quarter ended their hopes of a first provincial final in five years.
The fightback in the last 15 minutes reflected well on them, but the impression of the Lilywhites as they turn to the qualifiers with tomorrow’s trip to face Down in Newry, is of a side in need of a new cohort of on-field leaders.
“It’s a team, we are very evenly balanced,” said manager Jason Ryan. “We could take five off and bring five in and they’re players of very similar qualities. We have a lot of guys finding their footing at inter-county level because they haven’t that much time at it.
“Whereas last year we had a Johnny Doyle who, if things weren’t going well, players could go to. Now we have a lot of guys who have to learn they’re the ones who have to bring a level of performance, intensity, leadership, whatever it is onto the pitch.
“They are all learning together and fighting for a place together.”
A championship summer makes for a brutal classroom.
Kildare flattered to deceive for five years under Kieran McGeeney and the regularity with which they have missed out on provincial finals and, in 2010 when Down pipped them, an All-Ireland decider has made for an impatient and wary public.
“We consider ourselves to be a football county and we feel like we should be doing better,” said Moolick. “As a team, we feel we should be winning Leinster and All-Ireland titles. I wouldn’t call it pressure. You only create pressure in your own dressing room.
“It’s the nature of the beast. Hopefully it comes soon. It is eventually going to come and come in a bunch.”
Victory tomorrow would make for a good start.
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