On Sunday, Eamonn Callaghan led the Naas footballers through the Kildare senior championship unbeaten, 22 years after playing his first game at that level.
Callaghan is 38, close to 39 now, but looks and plays like he is 29. He holds the record for the most games played for the Kildare senior footballers, playing in 161 matches over 17 seasons, scoring 11-104 and at the weekend he called upon all of that experience to help push his team over the line by 0-14 to 0-12
He made his senior league debut in 1998 against Sarsfields, scoring 1-03 on the day, and took his championship bow a year on against Raheens. Since then he has been an ever-present in the Naas set-up.
On Sunday, he frequently twisted and turned his way through the Sarsfields defence, gaining possession, holding the ball up, engineering space for others, or scoring himself. He managed 0-02, one from the placed ball spot.
Indeed, as their county final against Sarsfields entered the red zone, and the Newbridge team piled heaps of pressure on Naas, Callaghan's calm and composure helped them endure a pulsating finish to claim the Dermot Bourke Cup for the first time since 1990.
On the sideline Eoin Doyle looked on, kicking every ball. Doyle, wearing number eight but playing right across the Naas defence, finally hobbled off in the 49th minute, unable to continue. He had gone down with a leg injury twice before then but tried to plough on at full-back.
When his brilliant young wing-back Paddy McDermott went down after a tackle in that frantic finale against The Sash, Doyle roared at his team-mate. "We need you, Paddy, get up, get up."
Kildare senior player McDermott did get up and duly went about his business again, filling gaps in defence, driving forward with the ball, flying up-field to find space.
It must have been a crippling injury for Doyle to leave the pitch minutes later with so much on the line and so many young players in tow, but when Doyle did leave his team withstood the onslaught.
It’s been a fine year for Naas; one when the players really stepped up. A week before their semi-final against Maynooth, their manager Paul Kelly left the set-up. They had been flying it, scoring a healthy 9-82 in five games up to then.
From there, with just two games left to play in the Kildare championship, Doyle and Callaghan assumed management of the team and led the player-driven charge to the title with the help of some trusted local hands.
The two experienced campaigners told their team-mates that the players were the ones who had to drive on now and their resilience was never more needed in the last quarter when Sarsfields came rampaging at them.
It looked like the more experienced Newbridge side had found a route back. Naas were down to 14 men with Sean Cullen off the field for a black card, and talisman Doyle replaced through injury.
Two points from Tadhg Hoey and another from Darragh Ryan had clawed them even closer to their opponents.
Near the end Sarsfields had the ball in the Naas net but play was called back for an earlier foul. Barry Coffey whipped that free over the bar to leave just a point between the teams. Naas were on the ropes.
Crucially, though, they stuck to the plan. From their 18-year-old goalkeeper Jack Rodgers, to their tight-marking full-back Paul Sullivan to dual player and Kildare senior hurler, Brian Byrne, they re-organised to keep their opponents out until the final whistle sounded.
As the game entered injury-time it was Callaghan who made a crucial turnover and sent the ball down the field. It eventually arrived in the hands of substitute Paul McDermott who did what he has done all year long – raised a flag with the final score of the day.
Whilst the likes of Callaghan and Doyle showed true leadership to drive their team-mates on, the legs of the youthful players on the Naas team proved key. From Paddy McDermott to Tom Burke in defence to Alex Beirne and Darragh Kirwan up front, Naas had pace all over the pitch, drawing from a talent reservoir that yielded three county minor titles out of the last five.
Ending a 31-year drought at senior level should allow the club to push on further. Naas, who field 85 teams across all four codes, is now one of the largest GAA clubs in the land with 2800 members.
Their senior hurlers, who feature the likes of Brian Byrne, Paul Sullivan and James Burke now prepare for their county final with Celbridge next Sunday.
After that the footballers will face the Offaly winners in a fortnight’s time. Buoyed by Callaghan and Doyle, infused with youthful pace, they look to be in a good place.