Paul McKay: You can only learn from playing the best.

The North Kildare Reapers have been impressive since admission to the IAFL in 2013. They have continued to improve year on year and after a solid opening campaign in the SBC, notching 3 victories, the Reapers should feel plenty of optimism this year.

The former IAFL-1 champions have got their season off to a good start, clinching a 12-0 victory over the West Dublin Rhinos that should give them great momentum in what will prove to be, a testing year for a team that is still growing.

It’s always interesting to hear how teams and players prepare themselves to make a greater leap the following season, so we took the time to catch up with Reapers Defensive Back, Paul McKay to chat with him about the teams plans for 2015 and how it felt getting his first win of the season under his belt.

‘It was a great way to start the season, the Rhinos are a massively experienced side. It was a huge boost for us too because we had lost a chunk of big names leading up to the game. Also it was my own first start on defence in a very new position so I was thrilled we shut out the Rhinos. It wasn’t easy!’

The Rhino’s are well known for their physicality and toughness and they have plenty of experience in the Shamrock Bowl Conference. However, the Reapers were well deserving of their victory as they put in a professional defensive display. Paul even grasped his first interception of his career!

‘Well of course, that was a nice boost for me. I haven’t played a lot the last three years. Started as a WR in 2013..didn’t get one catch. I wasn’t available most of the time so I got a few minutes as a CB. But my first game as FS I got my first SBC catch..but honestly it was all down to Coach Q’s (the 12th man) training..I think our Defense nailed it as a group and if it wasn’t for our corners and linebackers coverage, I wouldn’t have had the chance to catch it.’

Having faced some difficult teams last season, the Reapers have come away with a lot of lessons learnt from 2014. It’s still very early in the season and Paul knows the team can’t afford to rest on their laurels, but after last seasons performances, there is a lot of positives that the team can build upon.

11071747_710676439043479_4737464280269956132_n‘The Coaches have implemented a focused and tailored training programme this year and if you put in
 the work you will get game time, this is a tough balancing job for coaches because its an amateur league and people have family and work commitments. The team is confident this year as we played some massive sides last year like the Rebels, Vikings, Trinity etc, and learned a lot of valuable lessons. NKR’s programme this year is to compete for that playoff spot and with the addition of new coaches with a wealth of experience the positive atmosphere at training feels like that target is very possible.’

The Kildare outfit, like many teams throughout off season can suffer from moments of misfortune. With the season mere weeks away, the Reapers suddenly lost a significant group of players from the 2014 side, whose focus turned to other commitments and pastures new.

Understandably this could have affected team morale and potentially damaged the Reapers immediate plans to improve upon last year. So far, it hasn’t created too many problems as with their first W in the books, the remaining group is looking more focused than ever.

549362_576179389061089_923177815_n‘I think players leave every team for personal circumstances like moving house, job opportunities, you are always going to loose a few guys in the off season. Its all about how you respond to these changes and I think it galvanised us as a unit. We had new players playing their first game against a solid West Dublin Rhinos team and were it not for a few players having left, these guys (including myself) probably wouldn’t have got the opportunity..but we won, everyone played their hearts out, picked each other up after every play and enjoyed every snap. Our squad is the strongest its ever been and we are all excited about the upcoming games to test ourselves as a Team.’

Sunday’s fixture will be a major test and a huge jump in quality from previous games for what is still a young team in development. The Reapers must welcome the current champions, the Belfast Trojans to Kildare Sports Club and this will arguably be the hardest challenge the team is yet to face.

‘The team is psyched! These guys are a brilliant team that play great football. It will be an experience to put our style against theirs and see what happens. Its no small achievement to put points up against these guys like the Panthers did last week. You can only learn from playing the best. We are going out there to win and I think it will be an amazing game of football.’

Having dealt with any threat the Rhino’s could throw at them, coping with some of the leagues top scorers in Trojans trio James McKelvey, Dave Colvin and David Richardson will be a tall order. Despite being the overwhelming underdogs heading into the game, McKay maintains that the Reapers will be ready for Sunday.

‘Each of us know what we have to do. The coaches have instructed us in every way they can, if we turn up as a team and play our football, react to the changes in the game and do what we have been trained to do then you cant ask for more than that. If you can sit down with the guys after the game and know you did everything at 100% of your ability…that you didn’t let them or yourself down..that’s a plan in itself.’

This might be Paul’s first serious spell in the team, after having a bit-part inclusion over the past 3 years. He has shown great motivation and impressed on his debut at Free Safety, earning himself an honourable mention in our first Team of the Week article.

Knowing that his spot isn’t guaranteed and there’s still room to improve, Paul’s first priority is helping the team succeed. So far so good!

‘My personal goal is too earn my start on the squad, be an addition to our defense and have no regrets by the end of the regular season.’

You can watch Paul in action this weekend at Kildare Sports Club at 1pm, as the North Kildare Reapers host the Belfast Trojans!

Published by Scott Morrow

Scott is an aspiring sports writer and has previous publications with Double Coverage, Touchdown Europe and American Football International. He has played football for both the Belfast Trojans and Dundee Hurricanes and currently lives in Scotland. He is also a fan of the Green Bay Packers!