IT doesn’t get much better than this because you couldn’t ask for much more this early in the year.
We’ve won every game so far and we’ve chalked up wins against Dublin and Donegal in our last two outings. No one expects the football world to fall at Kildare’s feet anytime soon but any praise that’s being dished out right now is more than deserved for this team.
You could spend all day giving reasons as to why we shouldn’t read too much into Saturday night’s result but the simple fact is that we beat the standard bearers in Croke Park at the weekend and whether you do that in February or September, it’s something to feel good about. And both Kildare and Kieran McGeeney have every right to feel good about themselves this week. The team selection proved a huge success thanks to the superb performances of both Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn while the new style of play worked wonders against, an admittedly, weakened Donegal side.
Despite the fact that Jim McGuinness’s side weren’t in fifth gear, they still posed enough problems to show that no one will find it easy to beat them in the league. Kildare certainly got them at the best time and are probably two points ahead of the field just by virtue of this win but it still took an astute and skillful performance from Kieran McGeeney’s side to claim the victory. The game didn’t start well for Kildare and it would have been easy for them to have lost their way after a fruitless beginning. Instead they regrouped after coughing up some cheap turnovers and even cheaper scores and came back with some inspired football that put them in control of the game. As we saw in last year’s championship, the one thing you cannot do against Donegal is allow them build a lead. Like a card player amassing chips, they put the onus on the opposition to take risks and when the low-percentage shots don’t come off, they are brilliant at switching from one end of the field to the other and forcing scores through the sheer size of their force coming forward. Their defensive wall and relentless, high-tempo attack is a potent mix that very few teams have been able to counteract. On Saturday, Kildare managed that most difficult of tasks: getting a high percentage return from low-percentage shots while the defence resisted Donegal’s attacking onslaught.
Take the goals away from the scoreline, and there was an element of luck about all three, and Kildare still managed more scores than Donegal. What’s more, Kildare scored more of their points from play, and they threatened goals on a few occasions. Outside of the goal they scored, which the referee should have prevented by awarding a free out to Kildare that they should have got (and more about the ref later), Donegal’s only other sniff of a goal was a chance for Michael Murphy in the first half which he poked over the bar. We had at least three clear cut goal chances in the game. Kildare had their sloppy moments too but then you’d expect that at this time of the year. More often than they did the right thing and they were so dominant in the middle that Donegal had to go short with nearly every kickout in the second half. Gary White and Padraig O’Neill have developed a really effective partnership while the support on the ground from Brian Flanagan was first class. Daniel Flynn’s move to the wing provides another outlet for kickouts and he pulled down a couple of fabulous catches as well as launching a series of penetrating runs down the right wing. Anyone who witnessed Niall Kelly’s performance doesn’t need to read about to know how good he was, the boy was virtually un-markable on the night.
Mikey Conway was his usual assured self as the playmaker at the back but it was Peter Kelly who really caught my eye with a couple of vital tackles that set the tone for the rest of the side and left Donegal in no doubt their opponents’ intentions. Up front Tomas O’Connor was a vital presence in creating space for the rest of the attack although Seanie Johnston was disappointing. He will struggle to get any game-time on the basis of that performance.
The encouraging aspect of John Doyle’s display was the subdued nature of it, strange as that may sound. Instead of covering every blade, he came into the play when he was needed most and in places where he could be most effective. Instead of foraging for dirty ball in the trenches, he was benefitting from everyone else who was out footing turf. Doyle was on the ball less but when he was in the play, he was either shooting for a score or the final link to one. Too often in the past he has been asked to begin and finish attacks. All three subs added to the team and crucially our two replacement forwards both added to the scoreboard. It is a mark of the turnaround in the attack brought about by the addition of Kelly and Flynn that we now having scoring forwards coming off the bench when our biggest problem in recent seasons has been the lack of scoring forwards in the starting team. None of the defenders scored from play, which was unusual, but six of the eight forwards used on the night did.
That fact, more than the result or the opponent or the time of year, is the reason why Kildare are now a force to be reckoned with in this division.
How many more times will we have to look at a refereeing making a mess of a game without someone coming to his aid and telling him he might want to reconsider a few things?
There are two linesmen, two umpires and a fourth official all there watching the same game as him. Surely one of them can make a point of telling the ref at some stage: ‘You’re making a meal of it Cormac.’ I’m not saying that Cormac Reilly is a bad referee but some of his decisions beggared belief. It seemed like he had decided before the game that he wasn’t going to give Tomas O’Connor a free because the Donegal defence had licence to do whatever they liked whenever O’Connor got the ball. It wasn’t merely a case of Reilly favouring one team over the other. There were spells when the only team getting frees was Kildare too. By and large, Donegal were the beneficiaries of Reilly’s poor performance because they picked up frees in scoring positions a lot easier than Kildare did.
The same was true of Eddie Kinsella during the O’Byrne Cup final against Dublin and when you think back to that free Bernard Brogan got against us in the 2011 Leinster semi-final, you have to think more needs to be done to ensure both sides get a fair crack of the whip from the man in black. For one man to have basically all the officiating power in a game as fast as Saturday night’s is a recipe for disaster.
Linesmen and umpires still don’t do enough to help and when there is so much cynical stuff going on at the top level now, the referee needs all the help he can get.