Versatile O'Flaherty focused on his goals

 

A league medal is merely a step on the road for the Kildare man who aims to win further honours before the summer ends, writes MALACHY CLERKIN

IT WAS in the twilight between the spring and summer of 2010 that Eoghan O’Flaherty decided to make a break for it. Football and college had kept him in chains long enough. His final exams were coming up and he hadn’t been part of the Kildare panel during the league so for the first time since he left school, the prospect of sniffing free air was being dangled in front of him in the shape of a summer in Boston.

He dug the tunnel and tiptoed past the watchtower but just when he thought he was in open country, Niall Carew’s searchlight picked him out.

Kieran McGeeney’s right-hand man sat O’Flaherty down and sold confinement as adventure.

His pitch was blunt and simple – Kildare are in for long year and you can either be part of it or you can be just another Joe parked up in a Dorchester shebeen on a Sunday morning. O’Flaherty is a quiet soul who you can be sure would have gone through the whole of that summer without letting on he could have been part of what they were watching. But he’d have known. And Carew wasn’t shy about tugging on his insecurities.

“It was a hard decision because I had committed to a club over in Boston and at the time I was coming up to my exams, so I was just trying to get through them. I was due to leave 10 days after I met Niall. I thought about it for a few days and asked a few people what they thought.

“I was given an indication that I’d be going straight into the plans for the summer, that I wouldn’t have to do a few weeks’ training to catch up with everybody else.

“Basically if I showed good form in training I would go into the mix for selection. And at the time I was in good enough form with the club so I did feel I could make an impact, whether it was coming off the bench or starting.

“A lot of lads have gone over to Boston or New York and had good craic for the summer but this was it – I realised that Kildare were going places and if they had done something and I was sitting up on a barstool in Boston, I would have regretted it big time.”

So he stayed. Cancelled the flights, sent his apologies to the club. Took all his chips and piled them up where everyone could see them. You wouldn’t have said the pay-off was immediate. He didn’t feature in the defeat to Louth a fortnight later and only came on for the last 20 minutes as they scratched out a draw against Antrim in the first qualifier.

But by the end of August, he was a cornerstone of the team that only just missed out on an All-Ireland final having been the star of the show against Meath in the last eight. The world outside his window could stay there. This is who he was now.

Carew describes him as Kildare’s most thoughtful footballer. When they needed someone to shadow Peter Harte in the Division Two league final, O’Flaherty was who they turned to.

Who better to curb a string-pulling playmaker than a player who’d spent most of his career being just that himself? He wasn’t crazy about the idea but he carried it out to the letter, that game being the only one so far this year in which Harte didn’t score.

The day ended with Johnny Doyle finally lifting a cup, not that it turned a hair on O’Flaherty’s head one way or the other.

“I don’t think coming into the championship with a trophy won makes any difference,” he says. “Once we gained promotion against Galway, that was kind of our main focus.

“I know the league final was great to have but we were just using that as a gauge of performance level ahead of the Offaly game. We had come back from our training camp and we were trying out a few new things that we’d worked on over there.

“I don’t think if we’d lost it we’d have been in tears walking off the pitch or anything like that. It was a good game against good opposition and it was nice to get the win for the fans. But that was about it. I haven’t seen any medal yet, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. I won’t be first in line to go up and collect it anyway. Hopefully there’ll be different medals in my pocket before the end of the year.”

Having spent his schooldays in Edenderry, he will line up tomorrow against a raft of familiar faces, some genuine friends and even former housemates in a few instances. Pebbles in his shoe to be tossed out and cast aside, he hopes, with barely a backward glance

The summer stretches out before him. Everything else can wait.