THERE is a common theme to these league games: what are we actually beating?
It always seems like there’s a reason to doubt Kildare and maybe until this team wins a championship that will be the case but we shouldn’t be reluctant to embrace the successes we’ve enjoyed so far. While we’re clocking up wins against the big names, we should at least try and enjoy it. God knows we’ve had precious few of them.
To me Division 1 is the place to be and it has been for a good while now. To be competitive was my only concern at the start of the season. The last time we played in Division 1 it felt like we were on borrowed time. This time around we’re on the front foot, trying to achieve rather than hoping to survive. This team is going forward, minute by minute, game by game. So what if our opponents aren’t at full tilt right now. You could hardly say we’re 100 per cent either at the moment and if we were, I’d be really worried.
This is the best chance you’ll get to prepare for playing the top teams in the summer. So what if Colm Cooper didn’t play for Kerry at the weekend. They still had two Ó Sés, a Kieran Donaghy at midfield and later at full-forward plus Darran O’Sullivan off the bench. Those players will be there come high summer so how bad the chance for our players to be exposed to them now? If anyone is going to expose weaknesses, it is players of that calibre so better they give us a glimpse now than when it is too late to do something about it. What do you think it does for the mentality of a group of players who have not had their palms creased with medals to register a victory against Kerry? The only current Kildare player who was around when we last beat Kerry is Dermot Earley but you have to go back 16 years and too many poor incarnations of this county’s football side to find that result.
So forgive me if I sound happy this morning. We’ve won three games in this division having spent four years scrapping it out in Division 2 against much lesser opposition. That is progress.
As much as Kerry’s poor shooting coloured the outcome, we still deserve credit for finding the range when it mattered. The build-up to John Doyle’s goal was as good as you would see anywhere on a football field and the stunning nature of his strike was reminiscent of Michael Murphy’s goal in last year’s All-Ireland Final. It feels like it’s been a long time since we scored a goal like that, one that was both spectacular and spontaneous. It was football on instinct and it left Kerry bewildered. In the absence of James Kavanagh, it is good to know we have the tools to make such things happen.
There was more brawn than beauty involved in our other goal and it’s important to have that mix. Nobody but Tomas O’Connor could have created the chance that he did for Seanie Johnston. O’Connor has been improving with every game this year and you can see that he’s becoming more than just a link man. It will mean that he’s an option for 70 minutes come the championship although Kildare may not be able to afford the luxury of leaving him on the edge of the square for every one of those minutes.
Kerry’s dominance of the skies in the second half cried out for the relocation of O’Connor to midfield but for some reason the big man was left in the attack when there was little ball coming his way. It’s not the first time he’s been left to stew in the full-forward line while we’ve been all at sea in midfield. Equally Mick Foley could have been drafted in to the middle, especially on a day when the Kerry forwards couldn’t score even when they were unmarked.
You couldn’t say either team played particularly well so for Kildare to have won is all the more heartening. These are not the kind of games we’re supposed to win because we usually don’t. We’re developing poacher instincts in this league, which can only be a good thing come the championship.
We still look particularly vulnerable down the middle though and the absence of a strong man in front of the full-back line is something that needs to be addressed. Mikey Conway should be a withdrawn forward rather than an attacking number six. When our attack breaks down, especially when we’re working with turnover ball, the centre is ripe for opponents to exploit. We’ve already seen that an intelligent, skillful footballer like Morgan O’Flaherty will only get you so far in that area of the field. You cannot put a price on physical presence although the options are limited without Gary White. The sooner Daryl Flynn and Hugh Lynch are fit the better. At the moment we’re having to foul deliberately around the middle to prevent the opposition making the most of that space and if the new rules are passed at Congress, that won’t be a viable option any more.
With six points on the board and relegation no longer a concern, now is the time for Kildare to experiment. We don’t need to be beating Dublin this weekend so much as we need to be finding out ways in which we can beat them and stop them from beating us.
This team couldn’t be in a better position. Let’s enjoy the new view.