The inclusion of All Ireland Under 20 winning goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill from Carbury is the big shock in Glenn Ryan’s team announcement for the Allianz League Division 1 tie against Donegal in Ballybofey on Sunday.
O’Neill’s only previous start for the senior team came in the year he starred in that All Ireland triumph, 2018, when Cian O’Neill selected a second-string outfit to face Galway in a dead-rubber Division 2 game in Pearse Stadium.
Since then, Mark Donnellan has clocked up 49 consecutive starts in competitive games although O’Neill did get minutes as a substitute against Meath in 2019. Not only does Donnellan miss out on a 50th successive start but also a 90th competitive start in all since his debut against Mayo in 2013.
On the face of it, it’s a massive gamble on behalf of Ryan and his management team but it has been a difficult innings for O’Neill being the regular number 16. Indeed, he stepped away for 2021 and has been playing outfield for the last couple of years for his club Carbury.
Donnellan is another playing out the field for his club, Maynooth in this case, but perhaps it is felt that O’Neill is more suited to the sweeper-keeper style that the likes of Rory Beggan of Monaghan have brought to a new level in recent years. Donnellan tends to stay close to goal but his solidity in performing the core role has surely put him among the top handful of goalkeepers in the county.
It’s a gamble in a game that may go a long way towards surviving in the top flight, particularly given O’Neill’s lack of match practice in the position of late. That said, he was hugely impressive in Kildare’s run to that under-20 title and looked a real star of the future that day.
The only other change in the team announced tonight is the expected return of Kevin Feely to midfield in place of Kevin O’Callaghan. Feely replaced the injured Celbridge man at half-time last Sunday and went on to play an instrumental role in a fine second-half comeback from the Lilywhites against Kerry.
Kildare’s bench sees the return of Fergal Conway and Aaron Masterson as they continue their recovery from injury with Donnellan, Neil Flynn and David Hyland giving a very experienced look to the back-up resources.
Kildare’s last visit to Ballybofey was in 1994 when a Niall Buckley penalty goal, to add to his five points, was instrumental in a 1-11 to 1-8 victory. Of course, in more recent times there have been disappointing outings, laced with controversy (pack a spare gumshield lads!) in Ballyshannon with Kildare losing there in 2018 and 2019.
Our most recent win over Sunday’s opponents was in February 2013 when our opening Division 1 fixture with the then All Ireland Champions was moved to Croke Park and saw us prevail by 2-14 to 1-13 in our first game after promotion from Division 2 under Kieran McGeeney.
Remarkably the sides never met in competitive football until November 1986 when Sarsfields duo Brian “Spike” Nolan and John Crofton scored the goals in a 2-11 to 1-10 win at St Conleth’s Park.
Overall our record from 18 games (6 at home, 5 at neutral venues and 7 away) is 9 Wins, 2 Draws and 7 defeats. Games are invariably tight with more than an eight point gap recorded only once, that being the most recent encounter in Ballyshannon three years ago when Donegal ran out 1-20 to 0-10 winners.
Sunday’s referee is Derry’s Barry Cassidy.
Kildare Team and subs:
- Aaron O’Neill (Carbury)
- Mick O’Grady (Celbridge, capt)
- Shea Ryan (Sarsfields)
- Ryan Houlihan (Moorefield)
- Jack Sargent (Eadestown)
- James Murray (Moorefield)
- Tony Archbold (Celbridge)
- Kevin Feely (Athy)
- Kevin Flynn (Celbridge)
- Padraic Tuohy (Eadestown)
- Paul Cribbin (Johnstownbridge)
- Ben McCormack (Sarsfields)
- Paddy Woodgate (Raheens)
- Daniel Flynn (Johnstowbridge)
- Jimmy Hyland (Ballyteague)
- Mark Donnellan (Maynooth)
- Daragh Ryan (Sarsfields)
- Paddy McDermott (Naas)
- David Hyland (Athy)
- Con Kavanagh (Sarsfields)
- Fergal Conway (Celbridge)
- Mike Joyce (Round Towers)
- Aaron Masterson (Moorefield)
- Eoghan Lawless (Suncroft)
- Neil Flynn (Maynooth)
- Brian McLoughlin (Clane)