Hard to believe that the Kildare District Football League (KDFL) has been in operation since 1994, and all going will, hopefully, will be commencing their 27th season some time later this year, depending of course on government guidelines.
We sat down recently with Regina Casey who has been involved with the KDFL right from the beginning and is currently the long standing secretary, looking back over the past 26 years and confidently looking forward to the future.
Regina is a highly respected soccer administrator, her involvement began when acting as PRO for Coill Dubh, before getting involved with the KDFL right from the word go back in 1994
When league secretary, Tony Lumsden, unexpectedly passed some 18 months after the founding of the KDFL, Regina, who had already been involved, took over the role of secretary “until someone was appointed” and has been doing a fabulous job in that role ever since.
The respect that Regina is held can be gauged from the fact that in 2018 she was appointed Chairperson of the Leinster Football Association which runs the Leinster Junior Cup; Senior Cup; Leinster Youth Cup and not along was she the first female to hold that post in 123 years but more importantly, insists Regina, was the first person outside of Dublin to hold the position.
Prior to the formation of the KDFL, most Kildare clubs such as Coill Dubh, Castle Villa, Coill Dubh, Suncroft, played in the Midlands Section of the Leinster Football League.
Over a chat one day the idea of forming a Kildare League was discussed between a group that included Michael Casey, Tony Lumsden, Frank Tobin, Jack Connolly, Peter O'Neill, Jimmy Langton and Pat Ryan, to name just a few.
And from that initial meeting/ discussion the Kildare District Football League came about.
It was not however, as Regina Casey points out all plain sailing.
“We applied for permission to form the league to our provincial body and while there was a lot of opposition in the end they found no reason why we couldn't form, but they did put some stumbling blocks in our way.
“They told us we could run a Kildare League but on the proviso that we did not go outside the Kildare boundary; a restriction that was not applied to any other league that wanted to start up a new league such was the opposition to us but we began operating in August 1994.
“The Football League Association also put one of their representative, not on our committee but someone who would come and observe us and more or less oversee to make sure we were doing things right.
“That gentleman was Noel Kennelly, a very experienced official and a great rules man, very pro- Kildare league; he was invaluable help to us and he stayed for two years before they eventually brought him back to Dublin.”
Those who were involved from the formation of the KDFL were strongly of the opinion the project would only succeed if it was done right, well organised; with lots of local publicity etc, and this is what was done, right from the word go.
Such was the success of that initial season (19 teams, mostly second teams from established clubs, with two divisions) the following season saw an explosion with a massive 65 teams joining in six divisions; incredible within one season going from 19 to 65 teams and from two to six divisions.
Regina explained that the reason the league numbers increased so substantially, and so quickly, was simply Kildare clubs (and in particular players) wanted to play in Kildare, once they saw the leagues were being run well.
“In essence” said Regina, “the lads playing in the Dublin leagues saw how well we were running the leagues and were somewhat envious of the publicity it was getting from the likes of the Leinster Leader and other media outlets with weekly reports, tables, fixtures, so they wanted a bit of the action and that essentially was how the numbers drew so rapidly.”
It must have effected the Dublin Leagues fairly hard at the time?
“So what really happened was that “in that second season when we took the rest of the Kildare teams back into Kildare?
“Overnight it did away with the Leinster Football Leagues (Midlands Section) it simply was no more; they were left with just a handful of teams .”
So that must have seen an incredible jump from an administrative point of view?
Again Regina explained that “it was, definitely, but things were a lot different back then; no shortage of help and assistance; it was all new, everything was new about it and there was, in fairness, great excitement throughout the entire county.”
When you look back at it now, when we started up we were all really flying by the seat of our pants, said Regina, adding we would have got support at the time from other county leagues that had started up; like Meath and Carlow would have been of great assistance; Kilkenny League were also of great help at the time and I know our current Rule Book is somewhat based on the Kilkenny League which we got from them back in 1994.
“We kept all the press cuttings from Day 1 and it is only in the last few weeks I have been putting them up on social media outlets and looking at the excitement that it brought to the county, but we had a lot of help; big committee, as we still do today, but there was lot more volunteers back then than there is these days.
“I worked with my dad in Naas, in his private business, we really ran the league from the office at South Main Street practically; everyone came to the office for meetings; the disciplinary meetings with the clubs were held there on a Thursday night; that office basically doubled up as a Kildare League office, for some 15 or 16 years.”
Eventually the KDFL were given District status which allowed teams from the environs of Kildare; clubs from the likes of Carlow, Offaly, Meath, Laois and many are still involved to this day.
Of course in the mid-'90s soccer saw a major explosion throughout the country, especially during the Jack Charlton era and with the national team qualifying for the major tournaments the knock-on effect could be seen at all levels of the game.
At one time the KDFL were operating no less than nine divisions and that was pre the ever popular O35 Leagues and the Women's league.
But that was that was that was then, this is now and as Regina Casey explains a lot has changed in relatively recent times.
“It is sad to see the way the game has gone in some ways, and while our numbers have remained very healthy, I think socially it is different now; kids are not playing as much; people's time is much more precious now; work is busier; there is a fall-off in the game generally but I think there is a fall off generally, in all team sports.”
It was back in 2008 when the KDFL really made a far reaching decision to move to a calendar year season, primarily down to the bad weather.
“We were kicking off in August, stop in November and you might not play for 8 or 10 weeks so we put it to the clubs; EGM went to a vote; in the initial stages it just about got through as it required a two-thirds majority; we decided to play a transition season to get us into the one calendar year format; followed by one full one calendar format; and after that we would then took another look at it and it was decided unanimously to go with the one calendar year.”
That was a big move and a major decision?
“We did lose some clubs and some teams but did not have a major impact on our leagues; but ironically from that developed the O35s football, two divisions from Day 1 such was the interest; and then the Women's League came into being, so not only did we change to summer soccer but we also got the benefit of the O35s and the Women's League as well.”
There have only been two one-calendar year leagues, Kildare and Mayo but recently the Meath and District League went one calendar.
At that time GAA in Kildare was really hitting the headlines so it was a very big decision to take at that time and a lot of lads played both soccer and GAA?
“Yes but in many respects going on one calendar sorted out a lot of that as players had to decided which one they wanted to play, but we (KDFL) always accommodat-
ed the GAA when they had big games, we postpone fixtures, and are glad to do so, and the pressure did not necessarily come from the clubs, more out of respect for another association; Gaelic football plays such a huge part of life in Kildare; and it is (postponing fixtures) some-
thing we would still do it to this day.
OVER 35 LEAGUE
The O35s Leagues have proved amazingly successful, extremely competitive, they are played on Saturdays; the Junior football on Sunday; so no issue with pitches.
As Regina explains “the O35s are different, very different; lads who played all the way up; lads are dying to be 35 to get involved. I often get enquiries from players wondering is it possible that two lads U35 could play in the O35 league, but I quickly remind them this is not schoolboys football.
“As I say, hugely competitive; a lot of scores to be settled. Lads are getting slower but they think they can still do what they did maybe 10 years ago but it is extremely popular. There are two divisions and it is growing; some clubs now have two teams” Regina adding “some say we should go to O45 as many of the O35s are more than capable of playing at senior level, but that's for another day I suppose.”
While the Women's League is very strong since its inception, Regina, acknowledges that it is very different to the men.
Women mostly don't have the same time men do and where we would like to see it happening is from a very early age.
“We offer the women everything we offer the men; we have a women's representative football, our team are holders of the FAI Cup, the first time ever; very proud of that; we offer representative football to represent the league they play in as we do with the men in the Oscar Traynor; we have a pre-season footsal tournament very popular; their league games are played play on Monday nights which seems to suit” adds Regina.
“A lot of women are married, maybe at home, who want a social outing and slowly and surely the KDUL are making huge progress and we are beginning to see that come through into our league with young female players coming through.
“There is a huge fall-off in girls sport, even more so than boys, but mostly girls are either into football or are not; they either eat, sleep and drink the game or are not into it at all.
So like all other sports the coronavirus has no doubt hit your plans, your fixtures as it would be around now that the season would be starting up; how do you see the next few weeks and months panning out up to the end of the season?
Well we were fortunate we held our annual general meeting just before the lockdown came, so we got that done and dusted said Regina, adding “but in many ways we were somewhat fortunate in the fact that our leagues had not started so that leaves us we options that whatever we decided it will be a start, a new start.
“We, of course, will be guided by the HRI and the government directives but once we are given the go ahead, whenever that comes, we will then decide exactly how and what we will run for the 2020 season.
“We could possibly run a transition season; basically half a league, play one another just the once, instead of twice; probably, and hopefully, all the Cup competitions but more than likely no Lumsden Cup ad we will see how things unfold over the coming weeks and months.
“Running a winter league is not an option as we don't want to impinge on the 2021 season but we'll see.”
Has there been any fall-out from the goings-on at the FAI over the past few months?
“Yes, it has had a hugely negative aspect on the game; it was very disappointing the way that it has all panned out but it had a zero impact on us.
“We in the KDFL are totally self-sufficient; we are funded from registrations so thankfully no impact; probably some impact at underage level of the game because of Development Officers and funding in that regard but not on the adult game.”