‘I don’t buy into the idea that training is harder now than it used to be’ – Doyle
“I remember one incident where Terry Rossiter was playing under-21 and he was after breaking his thumb.
“The cast wasn’t set on his arm and he went to Micko [at senior training] with it and Micko said: ‘Jesus, sure there’s nothing wrong with your legs, you can still run’.
“If you did that now there’d be war.
“You’d have Joe [Brolly] on the telly going absolutely ballistic. But that was the way it was and if you didn’t want to do it you didn’t play.”
IT’S EASY TO forget Johnny Doyle only hung up his inter-county boots a couple of years ago; the way he talks of his playing days you’d swear they were in a bygone era.
So much has changed since he made his Kildare championship debut in 2000.
Mick O’Dwyer’s side won the Leinster championship at the start of the milennium and there wasn’t a sports scientist, strength and conditioning coach or nutritionist in sight.
Inter-county players were more concerned with the Y2K bug than burnout in those days.
“There is so much talk now about enjoying the game and the pressures that are on inter-county players, the training levels,” Doyle explains.
“I’m not really sure I buy into that a huge amount. I came in through the Micko era and we trained as hard as I’ve trained under anyone.
“There’s a perception out there that when Kieran [McGeeney] came in that it [Kildare training] went to a whole new level.
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“There were new levels of professionalism and organisation but the training wasn’t any harder than it was under Mick O’Dwyer or Johnny Crofton. The training then was serious.
I think maybe now there is a bit more emphasis on the load you’re doing.
Doyle fondly recalls his early days with the county when Kildare team-mates would retire to the pub together on Sunday evenings after encounters at St Conleth’s Park. The bonds were strong.
“The big change I’ve felt has been when we used to go and play a league match in Newbridge.
“You put the bag into Coffey’s then afterwards and you mightn’t collect the bag out of Coffey’s until the Monday. That is gone.
“Even at that, that social aspect is completely gone. If lads did that now you’d be calling them in and saying ‘what’s the problem here?’
“And players want that. If you had a manager, and Liam Kearns was on about it during the year, and it was refreshing to hear… if your manager says to you there’s training Tuesday and Thursday, in you come and whatever you do in between, if you want to go drinking, work away.
“There’d be war from the players and from the supporters. It’s me and ye who expect the high levels of commitment.”
While Doyle doesn’t wish for those days to return — he knows they can’t — he does feel the negativity is becoming suffocating, whether it’s around rule changes, defensive systems or the commitment required to play at inter-county level.
Source: INPHO/James Crombie
“I never enjoyed running six miles across the Curragh, up hills where I got sick. There’s no enjoyment in that,” Doyle, who represented Ireland in the International Rules series against Australia in 2013, said.
“There were times when you would sit in the dressing-room for a league match and the nerves would be at you and the butterflies would be going, and you’d say ‘why do I put myself through it?’
“But I enjoyed the days the whistle went and nobody expected you to win and there would be a 10-minute period there and you would go ‘do you know what, we came through this together.’
“It was for them minutes, that’s what gave you the adrenaline buzz and that’s what gave you the enjoyment and for me, representing Kildare was just a huge honour any chance I got to do it.
“Sometimes we sell this story that it’s not enjoyable anymore and [talk about] defensive systems; instead of maybe talking about how we are going to break down these defences.”
Doyle has also felt the growing negativity in his native Kildare. It’s been a lean 16 years since the Lilywhites won a provincial crown despite producing a number of standout sides at U21 level.
The Allenwood clubman, 38, knows better than most how difficult it can be to temper expectations among the Kildare public.
He understands they desperately crave senior success but it’s important to always see the bigger picture, no matter how high the highs or how low the lows.
A prime example was Kildare’s championship form in 2015, which led them to a stunning eight-point qualifier win against Cork, only for them to get beaten out the Croke Park gate — 7-16 to 0-10 — in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry next time out.
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“We left Thurles that day thinking we were going to win the All-Ireland, and then we left Croke Park after the Kerry game thinking we’d have to concentrate on hurling in Kildare,” Doyle, an All-Star in 2010, recalls.
“On any given day just results go against you, but that’s the challenge — to make sure we push on. We are a proud county, even though success hasn’t been a huge amount.
“Lads in other counties have won a lot more in one year than we have in fifty years, but football is the main sport and people love it.
“Obviously supporters will come and go and the crowds will come and go … we need to start winning to get the support back and there’s only one place you can do that which is on the field.”
Much is being made nowadays of the step-up from underage to senior inter-county level but Doyle believes having the right attitude remains the key to making the transition a success.
Young inter-county players are open to more avenues of criticism these days, and it’s important that they learn to develop a thick skin early on, Doyle adds.
John Doyle in action against Dublin in the 2000 Leinster final.
Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO
“Every lad is different development-wise; some are ready to step on. You’d see an 18 or 17-year-old like [Donegal’s] Paddy McBrearty stepping on.
“Now in certain counties if that went on you would say you rushed them too quick, but that comes down to the person themselves being obviously physically strong.
“There probably is a little bit of pressure but I still think at 21, 22 years of age if you are willing to buy in and work hard, keep the head down and expect that you are going to have bad games.
I suppose the big pressure is, when I played and when I started on the Kildare team some of the games I played were horrendous.
“But in fairness the only way you’d hear it was on the [Leinster] Leader.
“And in fairness Tommy Callaghan, a local lad who probably knew your granddad and knew the whole scene, he wouldn’t be too hard on you.
“Now there are forums and you would be reading them and there’s a good bit of pressure on them. You see a lad who got beaten to a ball and all of a sudden someone on a forum is calling him cowardly.
“And they must think ‘Is this what they think of me?’ and that’s going in his head at night.
“You are looking for guys just to put the head down, be honest, work hard and put your hand up and say ‘I was bad today, but I’ll work hard at it again the next day.’
“It’s hard work, you have to put in the hours. The training is tough, but you are one of the privileged few.
“There’s a lot of people who’d love to be in your position and you need to go with an open mind.”
Doyle is heavily involved in the coaching side of the game these days, having been appointed community development and participation officer in Kildare in April and having also managed NUI Maynooth at Sigerson level.
This evening he will be wearing a selector’s bib as Sean Kelly’s Leinster side tackle Connacht in the Interprovincial Championship at Parnell Park (6pm).
Doyle, who played 154 times for Kildare across 15 seasons, remains a keen advocate of the ailing competition which was called off last year due to inclement weather.
He has fond memories of representing his province, and insists the players are still desperate to play in it. Although, like most, he doesn’t have a quick fix to restore the event’s prestige in the eyes of supporters.
“It’s a tricky one,” Doyle admits.
Every year, as long as I can remember, it’s ‘where do we fit it in?’ and yet we’re here, still trying to fit it in. I think it is important we do find somewhere for it.
“I’ve had experience of playing it abroad and it was brilliant. I went to Paris and Boston. It was great for the players to mix and get to know each other.
“Even to this day there’s one or two you’d always keep in contact with. Out there you might have done everything to plot their downfall but playing in the inter-provincials, it was great for the players.
“Being involved on the other side of the line, even lads who couldn’t commit were really disappointed. Club commitments, one or two lads away on holidays.
“Take Dublin or the Mayo guys who had a long, long season.
“They were hardly able to celebrate before they were back to their clubs — still mad to play it.
“I was talking to Bernard Brogan — he’s away on his stag and you’d think maybe he’s played it before [so he wouldn’t want to again] — but he was mad to play it again, only he’s away the weekend.”
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