Times are constantly changing in Celbridge, but over the last 10 years they have performed with a remarkable air of consistency that has made them the most successful side in the county this millennium.
Five county titles since 2009, the development of some of the best players to come through in Kildare in living memory, and some good runs in the Leinster Championship; Celbridge have often been the benchmark for sides around the county.
There has been an exit door in the Celbridge camp that has seen some of the shiniest pearls in their dressing room move away from the club over the last five years. The Kenny brothers were the first notable pair to leave in 2013, heading down the M7 to begin hurling with the Borris-Ileigh club where they have family links in Tipperary, with Conor going on to hurl for the Premier County at senior level.
The talented Danny Butler was the next to go, while Gerry Keegan – Kildare’s biggest star for a couple of years –emigrated to Australia after winning the county title with Celbridge in 2016.
Mark Moloney, a player who has been an ever-present member of the team for more than a decade, admits that he and his teammates sometimes ponder what it would be like to have all of their potential stars together, but it is very much a case of just getting on with things now.
“In the pub or whatever after a game we might sit down and chat and put out a 15 of players we’ve lost, whether it’s lads moving to Australia or New Zealand or transferring down the country as the Kenny lads have,” Moloney told the KildareNow.
“Often the team that we’ve lost is nearly better than the team we have. It is difficult when you’re losing so many players, but we still have plenty of good lads there. Sometimes you can get disheartened when you’re struggling for numbers for a league game as we were over the last year, or if you have a different 15 starting in the earlier games when you don’t know what your 15 is going to be because you’re down on numbers so much.
“To be losing lads the calibre of the Kennys, Danny Butler who moved away, all these lads would be huge players for us – and they were huge players for us when they were here – it’s hard to adapt. I think it’s probably the biggest achievement of ours that we have adapted and other lads have taken on the mantle. Clubs are like that – players will step up if they are given the chance, and thankfully we’re seeing that at the moment.”
And step up they have. The experienced players are still the ones carrying the flag for the north Kildare men, and they will be the foundations on which Celbridge will build their challenge against Ardclough on Saturday.
Moloney, along with the likes of the O’Muineacháin brothers, the White brothers, Tom Finnerty, Patrick Curtin and Fergal Conway, have no shortage of experience when it comes to games of this magnitude.
They come up against a team that they know will have just as much composure on the big day, but despite Celbridge and Ardclough being at the forefront of Kildare hurling over the years, they have never met in a county final.
“It’s nearly a miracle that it hasn’t happened,” exudes Moloney, who is a primary school teacher in Tallaght.
“Two of the teams at the forefront in the championship in the last 20 years; if we get to the final they might get knocked out in the semi-final and vice versa. We’ve been very close to meeting on an awful lot of occasions, and players know each other well. There’s good friends on both sides and huge rivalries. So we might have been saying ‘wouldn’t it be great to meet in a final, it’d be some occasion’. Now it’s finally here it should be a great occasion.
“It’s a very tough game for us; they’re champions obviously and they were very impressive the last day against Naas. They showed huge hunger and workrate and no little skill, so it’s a huge ask for us to surmount that. We’re hoping to bring our best game anyway and we’ll see what happens.”
This year has gone swimmingly from a personal point of view for the versatile Kildare star. He was instrumental in the Lilywhites’ brilliant summer which saw them capture the Christy Ring Cup title, playing in the centre of a formidable half-back trio that featured Mark Grace and Eanna O’Neill alongside him.
Moloney fulfils a very different role for his club however, where he operates as a forward that drifts between centre-forward and the edge of the square. He admits that it probably isn’t the position he is most comfortable with, but when it comes down to it he is happy to play wherever the needs of the side dictates.
“There’s a huge difference between the positions,” admits the veteran.
“I felt very comfortable and settled in centre-back for the last few years – I really enjoyed it. We had a good management team that was instructing all the players exactly what to do, and we had a really good style of play. Obviously, when you go back to the club the needs are different. We might have positions that we might have a shortage.
“I hadn’t played there before, but in other years I would have had experience playing up there. I knew it was probably always likely that I would be in the forwards this year. But look, I’m enjoying it. I know it’s not my best position and I’m probably not that comfortable there at times, but I enjoy the challenge of playing somewhere else, and it adds a freshness to what you’re doing personally because you can go a bit stale playing in the same position all the time.”
For a player who says he isn’t entirely comfortable up that end of the pitch Moloney has been doing a good job for his club this year, and if he can continue his good form on front of goals this Saturday, Celbridge will have every chance of claiming a second county title in three years.
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