Eoin Doyle hoping experience helps make it third time lucky for Naas

Three-in-a-row Kildare champions are up against familiar opposition in champions Kilmacud as they target a provincial breakthrough

It may have been the talk of social media but Naas captain Eoin Doyle hadn’t actually seen the austere prescriptions handed to some club, supposedly in Galway: no drinking, no holidaying, no travel, commitments to do all sorts of things and permission required for most activities beyond breathing.

As someone preparing for a second provincial final in three years, he did look askance at the all-in regime those players were expected to embrace.

“I haven’t seen it but it was mentioned to me just there. Every player has their own level of standards and commitment but in terms of bans and things like that I think there’s a balance needed. I could be wrong but I think the game has maybe evolved and managers have seen that.

“I think it’s come full circle in terms of the whole drinking ban and players not doing x, y or z. That’s my own personal opinion based on Kildare and my club. There certainly hasn’t been anything like that and I think players need to balance if they want to be able to perform and keep going into the season.”

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Naas have developed into a significant force in Kildare and Leinster. This year marked a three-in-a-row double for the club whose hurlers were narrowly beaten by Dublin’s Na Fianna last weekend.

That defeat meant that the province could go ahead with a double bill in Croke Park this Saturday, as the dual players with the Kildare champions won’t need separate dates for the finals. It’s been a dominant three years for a club without a county title since 1990, a statistic he repeatedly raises as if to emphasise the precariousness of it all.

Doyle and his team-mates face familiar opponents. All-Ireland champions Kilmacud Crokes have defeated them in both of the last two years, a final in 2021 by a comfortable 0-14 to 0-7, and a quarter-final last year when a barrage of well-timed goals accounted for the difference, 3-14 to 0-14.

“Very different,” he says about the two previous meetings. “The first year we played them in a Leinster final here, we would have felt we had a decent enough first half but we petered out in the second.

“We were probably inexperienced at that time. Last year, it just felt like we got hit with sucker-punch goals at different times, that always kept us at arm’s length.

“So we never got a chance to test them and put them to the pin of their collar. The experience thing . . . and as well coached as they are, they always just kept you at arm’s length.

“That was a big learning for us, try and not let that develop. So not only are they an exceptional team in terms of individuals, their peripheral players who may not be as well know as the main players are very, very good.

“On top of that, they’re very well coached as a team. That’s the challenge.”

A seasoned intercounty performer, Doyle is a key player for his club, a versatile back, equally at home doing a man-marking job or sweeping and orchestrating the defence. He hasn’t yet made up his mind about rejoining Glenn Ryan’s Kildare for the coming season and sounds a bit ambivalent about the prospect.

“We’ll see what happens next year. The body is creaking a bit more than other years. We’ll see, we’ll see. That’s for after the club campaign anyway.”

Asked had his team reached the stage where they could taper their preparations for the county championship to optimise their provincial prospects, he shakes his head.

“This year we played Moorefield, Sarsfields, Athy, Celbridge, Clane Johnstownbridge, Maynooth – all very capable of beating anyone on their day so you just can’t afford to do it. Teams are too prepared, too competitive with too much at stake not to be at the same level of preparation.”

Naas may not be able to plan beyond the county but he accepts that experience is an asset in the provincial championship, provided it’s put to good use.

“I think the familiarity of it has definitely helped. We could have been beaten by Summerhill in the first round of the provincial championship.

“Now we’re into facing Crokes on Saturday who, you know, they’ve lost it [Leinster final] narrowly, then they’ve won the last couple, then lost an All-Ireland narrowly and came back and won that so they’ve got experience of both sides of it, both losing and winning. Look, if you use it right, experience can be great.”

Would he regard it as a big gap on his mantelpiece were Naas not to win a provincial title?

“We’re going into our second Leinster final now in three years. If you’re finishing your career and you haven’t won one, that’s certainly something that would gnaw at me anyway. But there’s absolutely zero guarantees. You don’t deserve anything just because you’re here for a second time.”