GAA Football

James Kielt enjoying new lease of life under Damian Barton

James Kielt in action against Queen's in their McKenna Cup group phase match in January 

KILREA clubman James Kielt has warmly welcomed Derry’s more direct style of play under new boss Damian Barton - and believes the Oak Leafers have a better chance of reaching their potential.

The 27-year-old stepped away from last year’s panel after a lack of game-time under Brian McIver – but has returned to the fold looking fitter, leaner and considerably more confident. Moreover, Kielt’s kick passing skills sit more easily with Barton’s more direct philosophy.

“I suppose what Derry have been known for over the last 10 or 15 years is general slow play and laborious fist passing,” said Kielt.

“The new management team wants to see a bit more kicking. You look at Kerry and they’re the best kickers in the game and are always there or thereabouts, and ultimately if you want to be one of the top teams in Ulster or Ireland I think you have to be a good kick passing team.

“It’s to do with the soft conditions in the McKenna Cup too that it lends itself to kicking the ball more and we’ve been playing big men on the edge of the square too. So it’s been the best ball to play.”

Throughout this month’s McKenna Cup, Barton has rotated big men Ryan Bell, Emmett McGuckin and Cailean O’Boyle on the edge of the square and has urged his half-backs, midfielders and half-forwards to kick the ball into the team’s target men.

Kielt has started games against Antrim and Cavan and made substitute appearances against Tyrone and Queen’s this month.

He knows Barton well from his two years as Kilrea boss and is hopeful that Derry can make improvements under the Newbridge clubman.

“I was happy to see Damian get the job,” Kielt said.

“I knew him, which was a good start. He’s easy enough to chat to as well. At Kilrea he got on well with all the players. There’d be no back doors in Damian – absolutely none. You can tell that after five minutes of knowing him.

“There’s always been good footballers in Derry. You just have to look at the club scene to see that. The footballers are there. There’s about 40 or 45 players there at the minute and they’re all good. You could play two teams at training and you’d still have spare players."

He added: “Derry would be just below the likes of Kerry, Dublin and I suppose Tyrone – so we’re trying to get ourselves up to that level and winning trophies and competing against the best teams.”

It’s not just the arrival of Barton that has given Kielt a new lease of life. He’s enjoying his football more than he’s ever done.

“I’ve enjoyed the training so far. When I was younger I was playing U21 and other stuff; you were playing all year round and there were occasions where you might’ve enjoyed it less.

“But when you’re out of that grade and you have a couple of months off you’re actually looking forward to it and looking forward to playing games.

“Whenever I was 18 and playing for Kilrea people would say to you about enjoying your football because it doesn’t last that long. But you don’t listen to that at that age. I’m 27 now and I try to enjoy it a bit more.”

Despite being goaded by his younger brother Jack about being “over the hill”, Kielt could well be approaching his best years as a Gaelic footballer.

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