'Veteran' James Kielt happy to put his shoulder to the Derry wheel
DESPITE the Derry senior football squad being in the early throes of a rebuilding job, the privilege of playing for your county hasn’t changed for seasoned campaigner James Kielt.
Now in his 10th season with the Oak Leaf seniors, the 29-year-old Kilrea clubman still enjoys the rigours of the inter-county game
“If you’re able to play county football or if you’re picked to play for your county, you should," said Kielt.
“There are always things to consider but the pros always outweigh the cons. It does get harder as time goes by and there is more to life than playing football too. But I definitely still enjoy it."
Despite their poor start to their NFL campaign, Kielt remains confident Damian McErlain’s work-in-progress side will retain their Division Three status.
Derry have lost three of their opening four games in the division and have a fight on their hands to avoid back-to-back relegations.
They face Armagh, arguably the best team in Division Three, at The Athletic Grounds on Saturday night before make-or-break encounters with Wexford (h) and Sligo (a).
“I’d still be hopeful,” said Kielt, whose senior career dates back to 2009.
“We’re away to Armagh, who are favourites in the division, and then we’re home to Wexford and away to Sligo. On paper, all three games are winnable.
“When you look at the fixtures you automatically look to your home games and take it from there, but you can’t rely on that now because we have to try and go out and win all our remaining games.”
A last-gasp penalty miss by Enda Lynn cost Derry the points at home to Westmeath before losing on the road to Longford and Fermanagh.
A morale-boosting win over Offaly, however, has improved their League prospects.
McErlain has flooded the senior ranks with many of the players he had during his successful three years at minor level.
Eight of the 22-man squad that beat Offaly served their apprenticeship under McErlain – but the new senior boss needed the experience of Mark Lynch, Lynn and Kielt to see them clinch their first League win against Offaly at Celtic Park.
“The good thing is Damian has a good idea of what the young players are like because he was over the minors the last three years,” Kielt explained.
“I’d say 50 per cent of our panel, maybe more, have come from those minor teams. There are a lot of 18, 19 and 20-year-olds in the squad and a lot of them would have played under the same management team.
“It’s not a huge difference for them; the only difference is there are a few older players in the squad with them.”
Kielt added: “I suppose the test is the matches themselves. Physically, you can see it’s a bit harder on the younger lads. There are not many 18 or 19-year-olds who are fully developed for senior football, never mind senior club football.
“Obviously you get the odd player who develops earlier – a Patrick McBrearty or a Michael Murphy who have been playing senior football since they were 16 or 17-years-of-age."
In overhauling the senior squad this season, McErlain has urged patience among the Derry faithful as they try to rebuild with a much younger panel, arguably the youngest in the country.
With a favourable scoring average (-7), Derry are expected to pick up enough points across the next three games to avoid falling into the bottom division.
Having plenty of experience of Division One, Two and Three during his own career, Kielt insists the third tier is a good station for the likes of Oran Hartin, Michael McEvoy, Conor Doherty, Padraig MacGrogan, Aaron Bradley, Declan Cassidy and Conor McCluskey to learn their trade at senior level.
“I remember we were in Division Two for a few years and, to be honest, there wasn’t a huge difference between the majority of teams in Division One and Division Two.
“Division Three is probably not a bad learning experience because you do make mistakes but you maybe get away with some of them more than in Division One or Two.
“The key for young lads is physical because boys in Division Three or Four are no weaker than those in the higher divisions.”