You Don't Have to be a Star at Underage to be the County Captain

 

Mick O’Grady has been described recently as Mr. Consistency. The modest and unassuming Celbridge club man will make his 77th appearance for the Kildare senior footballers this Sunday against the Dubs in an already sold-out St.Conleth’s Park, Newbridge in round 4 of the Allianz National Football League. Named captain of the county senior footballers for 2022 by Glen Ryan and his management, this will be his fourth league game to lead the Lilywhites. The fact that he is the very first Celbridge man to be named captain of the Kildare senior footballers in the 137-year history of the club is both a huge honour for him as he says and the north Kildare club.

We caught up with Mick recently in his busy schedule for a chat about things football, what it means to him to be captain and interestingly growing up in the O’Grady house.

 

Earliest memory of playing football

It was playing under 10’s or under 11’s with Mick Mullen in charge. Back then, he says, he was “chancing his arm up in the forwards”. He remembers the game well because he scored a goal, a rare occurrence he adds, and then heading off to do a Klinnsmann slide ... into a big puddle … followed by another couple of lads. He also remembers his auld lad letting out a big roar “ya big eejit”.

The Celbridge under 11A Autumn Football League winners, 2002. Mick O’Grady is third from the right in the back row.

 

Growing up in Thornhill Meadows he would have often kicked or pucked around with a good bunch of lads, “the likes of Kev Murphy and (Conor) Plunkett from up in Ballygoran and Davy Hughes in Castle Village. There was always a group playing some game or sport of some kind”.

A recent memory popped up on Facebook for Kevin Murphy’s birthday of himself and Stephen Murphy heading off to their debs with the younger Murphy giving them a guard of honour with a hurl as they headed off in the limo.

 

Earliest influences

Mick Mullen looked after all the underage teams Mick played on and the Meath man had a big influence on the young O’Grady. Trevor O’Sullivan then came in for the minor year to take the reins.

              

Getting the game face on in a pre-match team photo and then celebrating an underage win with teammates

 

The Féile team two years after him under John Slevin, with current Celbridge senior players Fergal Conway and Conor Plunkett went on to lose out in an All Ireland div.1 Féile Peil na nóg final in Baltinglass to current All Ireland senior Club champions Kilcoo of Down but Mick’s under 14, 15 and 16 years while winning competitions didn’t quite reach the same heights. What Mick didn’t mention was that he took a break for a while away from the GAA, to maybe dabble in a bit of soccer, according Mick Mullen.

At minor the young O’Grady was back and part of a group that lost out to Naas in a county semi final, “The first real bit of success came though, with a win in the under 21 championship in 2012 with Trevor O’Sullivan again as the bainisteoir. This team was made up of a few lads from the group that came up through the ranks with Mick but the majority were from the year below”.

 

Growing up in the O’Grady house with a Dublin Ma and a Kerry father

“We kind of ignore the Dublin side of the family to be honest” he says with a laugh. “Growing up watching the Kerry teams win All Irelands in the 2000’s, but maybe my dad’s influence, I would’ve grown up with a Kildare jersey or a Kerry jersey on me. I don’t think you’d ever find a picture of me with a Dublin top or jersey on me. No, it just didn’t happen”.

“That’s where the love of football came from” he goes on to say. “I went playing soccer for a few years and while the father was supportive, he was always asking was I going back playing gaelic football or if I was going back”.

 That winning feeling...

 

First Year with Kildare

“I played on a development squad at under 14 and then there was a barren period but I didn’t come up as an underage star or anything like that” he modestly says of himself. “I never played minor or anything with Kildare and actually got dropped from the under 21’s when I was two years eligible and then made it in my last year”. This, would you believe, was actually the first time he ended up playing in the full back line. After going in still playing as wing back or half back he found himself filling in at a training session because they were stuck for someone in the full back line. “Alan Barry fired me into the full back line to mark a lad from Clane called Conor Murphy and all I did was pull and drag out of him for 50 or 60 minutes, whatever the game was… and that was it I was stuck there until maybe last year until I got a bit of a spin at mid field with the club”.

As luck would have it, he got injured leading up to the championship and didn’t get to play for Kildare in the knockout championship as it was at the time as they went down to Offaly. Back with the club he got game time with the third team and second team and eventually broke into senior team the year after the club’s maiden SFC title of 2008. Although not starting but coming on as a sub in most games. The Salesian’s debs and the Wolstan’s debs got in the way too of a couple of championship games and while he reckons Mark Shaw mightn’t have taken it too bad it probably blew any chances he had of playing first team football.

 

 Kildare Senior Captain, what does it mean to you ?

“Ah look, being captain is a massive honour, a huge honour. If I’m being brutally honest, I probably won’t appreciate it as much as I should until maybe I stop playing football” says the ever modest 30 year old. “I obviously have added responsibility, but I just try to do what I normally do. I’m not trying to let it change what I’ve been doing since 2013 or 2014 when I first got called into the senior team, so look as the first Celbridge man to be appointed captain it mean’s world to me”.

“Being able to say we’re a proud Kildare Club and that the county captain is from Celbridge, if that was to inspire another youngster, that’s what it’s all about really. That’s why we’re playing, to create a path for them to play for the county if that’s what they want to do”.

 

Most memorable game for Kildare

Obviously, the Newbridge or Nowhere game against Mayo from 2018 springs to a lot of people’s minds but the game he made his Kildare debut, an O’Byrne Cup match against Athlone brings back great memories. Getting to the Super Eights a few years back too, “there were a few big games where there were massive crowds. The Leinster final of 2017 there was sixty odd thousand there and you don’t get to play in front of numbers like that too often. It’s a different kind of energy. Even the first game of this year’s league campaign against Kerry in Newbridge there was a packed house, those games give you the kind of buzz that it’s hard to find elsewhere, a serious adrenaline rush".

And what about this Sunday's sold out game in Conleth's Park? "We’re itching for the game against the Dubs on Sunday in Conleth’s. The noise will be electric. As a player you feel that and you can really get the benefit of having the support behind you”.

 

The Kildare team is announced on the big screens at Croke Pk, Leinster Championship 2021. 

  

Being one of the oldest in the Kildare Squad

Since Jack O’Connor came up and got involved the panel has turned around massively and Mick found himself the oldest in the starting fifteen that took to the field in Omagh against the All Ireland champions last week. “Looking around still thinking you’re a young lad but all of a sudden you’re the most senior man here, the years fly by and there’s a lot of boys that were part of the successful under 21 team of 2018 now getting their chance with the seniors”.

Mick O'Grady in action from Kildare v Dublin, Croke Pk 2021

 

Last week in Healy Park was the first time Mick has faced off against Tyrone on their home patch. The three previous encounters being in Newbridge. “They’re always a hard physical team and we left there disappointed not to get the result after conceding two sloppy goals and not taking some chances of our own. But there were massive positives to be taken though especially with such a young team. Kildare have shown now that they can compete with the likes of Tyrone, and that can only be good for their development and should be able to take great belief out of it”.

Indeed, it’s something similar with Celbridge “with the lads coming up from the minors and under 20s of the last few years. They’re great to have around bringing freshness to the setup and they’re all very eager to get their chance. And “while the pressure on the older lads sometimes isn’t always liked, it is needed” he points out.

 

Playing under the Legends of ‘98

You grow up and watching these guys. “I grew up watching Glen (Ryan) captain Kildare to a Leinster title in 1998 and idolising Dermot (Earley) and Dara Ó Sé, lads in mid-field going up and plucking the ball out of the sky. I was lucky enough to play with Johnny (Doyle) at the tail end of his career. He was finishing up just as I was starting and I got to see what he was like in training and what he was like in matches and stuff like that. He’s recognised as one of the best, if not the best forwards that Kildare has produced. Anthony (Rainbow) would’ve been involved in the under 21 team that I was on so I would’ve known the lads but yeah, they are all legends and whatever they say has to carry massive weight because they’ve been there and won Leinster titles, got to an All Ireland final and as far as success goes in Kildare football they’ve been at the top. These lads know what they’re talking about. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here they’re just making sure the team is playing like Kildare men and to get that pride back in the jersey. Along with focusing on what all successful teams focus on like work rate and intensity in a game”.

“There’s some things to work on from the first few league games but I’d like to think that in those first few games we have applied ourselves well and shown good commitment to that jersey and trying to leave it all out on the pitch. That’s what these lads are bringing and obviously the tactics that go with that. A key thing too is that Kildare fans will be leaving a game saying that I identify with that team”.

 

Disappointments

The honours list wouldn’t be long he says, if he was to sit down and put them on paper. “I’d murder for a senior club championship with Celbridge and then obviously for a Leinster and All Ireland title with Kildare, so not winning enough is probably, while maybe not a regret.. it would be nice to get over the line with both Celbridge and Kildare, and I feel we will do that. We do have with both club and county very strong panels with plenty of young talent coming through. The downside is not having that honours list a bit longer”.

 

Most Difficult Opponent

It’s maybe a bit of a cliché to name one of your team mates “in training anyway when you’re marking the likes of Daniel Flynn he can give you just an absolute awful day. He’s a lot of attributes that others don’t have. He’s as quick a player and as strong a player you’ll come across so he can cause fierce problems”. Looking back to 2014, James O’Donoghue was at his prolific best and Mick remembers having a bad day when he came up against the Kerry man in a league game. In what was one of his first league games in the lilywhite jersey. “It turned out to be a steep learning curve” and the future player of the year “made the most of it that day”.

Sarsfields would go on to get the better of the Celbridge side in the 2021 Kildare senior club championship semi final

 

When asked what kind of players are the hardest to mark in a game, O’Grady says “it’s important to get the match ups right when you’re coming up against an opposition”. For him though personally he’d rather “a bigger player to get into a physical battle with, whereas the smaller nipper lad that’s going to stay running for seventy minutes, well he’s going to be a lot more annoying”.

 

If there was a Transfer market in GAA, who would you like to see brought into play with Kildare ?

Maybe it was down to the traces of Kerry blood with his answer to this one but “You’d definitely bring in, from the forwards anyway, maybe Sean O’ Sé from Kerry and of course hard to look past (David) Clifford as well, while from a defensive point of view (Padraig) Hampsey of Tyrone is a good defender and he can go up and kick scores as well”.

 

What One Rule would you change in Gaelic Football

After thinking about it for a few seconds, Mick is fairly adamant he’d get rid of the mark.  “Going forward I don’t mind the mark but defending it’s a different story. The defensive mark is not seen too often in games and you can be as tight as you want but if the forward does catch the ball it’s just a free shot at goal for him”.

Contesting a high ball in the 2021 Kildare senior football championship against Athy

 

Other interests outside of GAA

This man has very little time for very much else outside of work and GAA. Work is with Pfizer in Newbridge as a Plant Engineer. It’s been especially busy the last two years with Covid and the roll out of new medication.

However, there was an investment in a second-hand set of golf clubs last year and he tries to get out every few weeks with a bunch of lads from Celbridge to Elm Hall and the likes for a bit of craic outside of a football environment.

 

When it comes to Who the Best Trainer in the Celbridge squad is “It’s hard to look past the likes of Davy Hughes. He never misses a training session and has been plugging away for years. He’s always up at the club practicing his shooting and his frees and is so committed”.

And then the biggest messer ? … “well that would have to be Kevin “the Goose” Gorman” …. Enough said.

 

Three words to describe yourself

“Sticky corner back”

This Sticky corner back, doesn't give away too many scores

 

Advice you’d give to young players

Mick takes on a philosophical view with this one “I didn’t grow up being on underage teams, so the advice would be if your ambition is to go on and play with Kildare be with football, camogie, ladies football or hurling don’t let any setbacks, especially at a young age, define you. If you stay plugging away, there’s always another path there. Don’t get too hung up if you’re not making county underage teams, stay working hard with your club and you’ll eventually get that break that you need”.

During the 2021 club championship campaign with Celbridge, Mick got to play further out the field than his familiar full back line role

 

Ambitions for 2022

Celbridge unfortunately have made a bad habit of losing at the penultimate stage of the championship, losing 8 of the last 9 senior football championship semi finals. All in the Celbridge club, including Mick will be hoping to turn that around in 2022.

“Has to be to win the senior club championship with Celbridge and then to win a Leinster and All Ireland with Kildare. Also, to stay up in division 1 of the league, while not the be all and end all, it’s hugely beneficial for especially the young guys in the squad to learn their trade playing against the division 1 teams. Not too many teams win an All Ireland from outside of division 1 so it’s important to be playing these top teams and showing yourself that you can compete with these teams. Marking the top players in the country and getting marked by the top players is how to get the best experience”.

 

 

Pic cred. Brendan Holmes, Mick Mullen

 

 

 

 

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