Peter Campbell email@example.com @dgldemocat
The Kildare dressing room after the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park in 2011 was one of the worst experiences for the Lilywhites during the career of Dermot Earley.
The recently elected CEO of the Gaelic Players’ Association was in Donegal this week and recalled the gloom which descended when Kevin Cassidy hit the wonder point in extra-time to finally decide the issue in Donegal’s favour.
"I was up in the box in Croke Park doing stats because I was actually injured. I was very confident in that second period of extra-time that we had the game. I played against Kevin; I played with him at college in Galway, a fantastic footballer,” said Earley.
"Emmet Bolton, the Kildare defender, maintains he actually clipped his finger. It just goes to show, they talk about inches. Another inch and it might have taken the sting out of it. But what a fantastic score. I think that really was the catalyst for Donegal to go on and win the All-Ireland the following year.
"We came in through the Qualifiers that year; Donegal came in through the front door, winning the provincial and the confidence winning the provincial gave to Donegal, you could see it that day. They had that swagger. They deserved their victory, but it was a tough, tough victory.
"I've said it before, and I was in an All-Ireland losing dressing rooms, that was one of the worst dressing rooms from a Kildare point of view," said Earley.
The All-Star, who lined out for Kildare for 16 seasons, is hoping that the Lilywhites are on a roll once more after recently overcoming Meath in the Leinster semi-final to set up a Leinster final date with Dublin.
"I'd love to be playing. Going into a Leinster final against Dublin. For Kildare it's been eight years and six years before that. For me, playing Dublin in Croke Park, when I started out, that was the one you wanted most. You always wanted to score in front of Hill 16.
"Kildare have shown good progress over the last two years. They have had two good games in Leinster and I want them to have a go against Dublin.”
So having watched Kildare overcome their great rivals, Meath, so easily in the semi-final, what does he think of Donegal’s chances against Meath this weekend.
"Down in Kildare, we're always watching what's going on in Meath. From the start of the year, I was talking to Meath people and they have made a big effort. They are better than what was on display against Kildare.
"Going down to Navan for Donegal is going to be a tough one. Navan is a tough place to go to get a result. But then it is championship and I feel this Donegal team have a few more established players than the Meath team at present," said Earley, who said victory in the Qualifiers does wonders for the confidence.
"To be honest Meath are coming but I think Donegal are a wee bit further down the road and I expect them to win.”
As for the championship overall in 2017, Earley is expecting the usual suspects to be there or thereabouts at the end.
"There have been no real surprises. Looking at the start of the year I felt Tyrone were the one to watch in Ulster and you would expect them to come out of Ulster. I would also expect to see Kerry; Cork were poor last weekend. Dublin will be favourites in Leinster. I think Mayo will be back; they seem to peak for the right time,” he said.
Asked about the Super 8 which will be introduced next year, he said: “The GPA surveyed our members and there was strong opposition to it. But we respect the Congress decision," said Earley, who said that they were still looking at structures that would improve all counties.
However, he feels that the game overall is in a good place.
"I started out in '97, you had your man to mark. That was your job. Over the course of my time playing and I played up to 2012, the game evolved," said Dermot. "That's what's happening in Gaelic football. Look at Australian football, we would have looked at them and the physiques. We have got up to that level but even now that game has evolved with less and less bulking and more about speed and speed endurance.
"What is really great to see is the tactical and the tactical battles and the managers are becoming more and more central how teams play. Sometimes we mightn't get the games of high quality, but when you look back players are fitter, players are more skillful, left and right, the pace, the levels of commitment. The game is better and we get some crackers now and again,” said Earley.