"He'd have a cool head, he'd read the situation and he'd have huge respect in the dressing room" - Callaghan still the man for Naas 1 month ago

"He'd have a cool head, he'd read the situation and he'd have huge respect in the dressing room" - Callaghan still the man for Naas

There are many note-worthy stats about Eamonn Callaghan, and Naas GAA PRO and historian Liam McManus reels them off at will, but there is none as startling as the one that tells you he has played inter-county football against every county in the country.

Even Kilkenny.

Advertisement

"Believe it or not he played against Kilkenny in a minor challenge game. There were Kilkenny hurlers playing football that day."

As a Kildare stalwart and a Naas legend, going down through these years Callaghan has seen living. He has played more games for Kildare than any other player, he has played for Naas in two millenniums, he has played under Mick O'Dwyer and Kieran McGeeney but he has never played on Kildare county senior final day.

At 39, it's late to be trying new things but that changes on Sunday. It's been a funny old year.

Three county minor titles out of the last five would have told him that Naas were coming and to hold on that bit longer. Along came Paul Kelly and as winter promise turned to summer hay, the Dubliner brought them all the way to county semi-final day. Then, just before the semi-final and just after a dispute the details of which have remained out of the public consciousness, Kelly left and so naturally enough, Callaghan and fellow stalwart Eoin Doyle began to steer that ship.

They're a team without a manager but on the inside nothing has changed.

Eoin Doyle and Eamonn Callaghan took over as player-manager of Naas and here they are embracing after their side's victory over Maynooth in the county semi-final.
Advertisement

"We're blessed to have those two boys," says McManus, "You couldn't have two better fellas than Eamonn Callaghan and Eoin Doyle," adds the fountain of all things Naas GAA.

"Paul Kelly is gone now but ask Eamonn or Eoin and they'll tell you that the team still plays the same way. Eamonn Callaghan said that Paul Kelly was best manager he's ever had in Naas. That's as far as I'll go on that one."

"I was talking to Eamonn after the semi-final and the smile on his face, it was brilliant. He's been playing for Naas since 1999 when he made his debut as a 16-year-old and scored 1-3 against Sarsfields. He's been a key man ever since but we haven't won anything.

"So to win this Sunday would be the dream come through. It would be the perfect way to round it all off."

On the outside looking in, as a former team-mate and as a kindred spirit, Johnny Doyle is anything but surprised about Callaghan's majesty at the age of 39.

Advertisement

"He came in first under Micko in '02 and I wouldn't have known much about him," says the Allenwood icon.

"He was Mr. versatile back then, corner back under Johnny Crofton, played in the half back line and all over the forward line. He was deceptively very quick, could stay going all day and could kick scores off both feet. None of that has changed."

How does Callaghan keep it going? How does Johnny Doyle keep it going?

"Maybe it's something that's in you as a person. Obviously you have to enjoy the game. You have to enjoy the dressing room and enjoy being involved. There's very little else that gives you that same buzz as you get in a team. When you're in a team, you can see lads driving through injuries, problems, they'll do anything they can to do the best for their club.

Advertisement

"It's very difficult to let that go. Once it's gone, it's gone. You'll find a way to be involved. Knowing Eamonn, he is that competitor, he wants to be the best he can be. He looks after the body, he minds the body. I'm sure he'll have himself in prime condition. He's 39, but he'd pass for 29. He's in a great place. I was talking to him a few weeks ago and he was happy out with the body and he was loving every minute of his football."

Indeed, knowing what he knows, Doyle wasn't one bit worried for Naas when he heard about Kelly leaving.

"As soon as I heard about Paul Kelly leaving, the alarm bells wouldn't have been ringing for me. That's because when there was a little bit of controversy in Kildare when Kieran left, Eamonn was the captain then and he was the main man in resolving the situation.

Advertisement

"He would have had a cool head, he'd be able to read the situation. He's not a very aggressive person, he thinks things out, he's level headed and as well as that, he'd have huge respect within the dressing room.

"Those young players, they were growing up looking up to him when he was out in Croke Park for Kildare and now they're beside him. They see how he wants this so bad for his club, that speaks volumes and that must be huge for them. He won't miss training. He'll be there all the time. He's a humble fella. He values the club, values the people around the team and in many ways, he embodies everything that is good about Naas GAA."

We'll leave the last word to McManus, because he's a neighbour, a club-man and just like Eamonn Callaghan, you get the impression he'd die happy if Naas did the job on Sunday.

"They're not on their own. There are a lot of people doing a lot of work for this Naas team, raising money and supporting the club but the whole controversy had to bind them together as a unit.

"He's playing the football of his life now Eamonn is," adds McManus, who says if Callaghan ever retires he will go into coaching.

"He was always the number one forward, the opposition's defender had to take him. Now Alex Byrne and Darragh Kirwan have to be minded so it's maybe, maybe the third defender picking up Eamonn and that gives him more space. He's always been lethal when he gets space. He's always looked after himself fitness wise. He's playing brilliant stuff.

"It would be a very emotional day on Sunday if we were to do it after 30 years away. It would be emotional for everyone, but none-more-so than Eamonn, after all he's given to our club."