THERE are bad defeats and then there are defeats that leave you with a scar. Sunday’s loss felt like a deep wound.
It was not the loss of two league points or the margin of the defeat that were so worrying but rather the fact that even at less than their very best, Dublin looked a class apart. We had no answer to them when they got on top and in the second half we looked as inept as we ever have under Kieran McGeeney. It was reminiscent of the league defeat away to Derry in 2008 when we were left scratching our heads, fearful of what the future might hold.
The only consolation this time around is that we’re in a good position in the table but it feels, right now at least, that as this league draws us closer to the championship the rest of the division are going to accelerate away from us.
Sunday’s game should have been an opportunity but instead it turned into a massacre that was partially self-inflicted. We ceded control to Dublin from the off and they ran riot once the mounting pressure was too strong for us to resist. Pathetic was the thought that sprung to mind as we haplessly tried to win possession in the second half. Dublin got the smell of blood early and went for the kill, knowing that they could win this battle and stake a claim for all future wars. We didn’t even have the guts to try something different.
Management got it badly wrong on the day and they compounded their woes by refusing to change tack, although that’s assuming they have a back-up plan. On the evidence of this display, it seems like we are still wedded to a strict system of play that allows little room for manoevure. Why else would you continue to play in the same way when the game is lost?
Having conceded 11 points to Dublin in the first half, the game was effectively over at half-time. We were winning so few breaks that our total of 1-6 was a brilliant return given the amount of possession we had. There was no way we could come close to that against the breeze when our primary option is going long to the full-forward line. As it turned out we were lucky to get the two scores that we did in the second half.
As well as the poor performance of the team management, the players have to take a look in the mirror this week. Very few players put it up to Dublin and too many seemed overawed by them. There was no act of defiance out the field, a moment when a Kildare man seized the initiative and put a stop to the rot. Sadly, we were beaten before we ever took to the field.
I didn’t expect us to win on Sunday but I didn’t think we would ship such a beating either. Dublin had their homework done and much like Kerry and Cork, they crucified us at midfield. From that platform, it was easy for them to get inside our 45 and although we packed the defence with 12 and sometimes 13 men, Dublin were able to get a shot away more often than not.
We did do some good things in the first half and broke quickly and effectively when we turned over possession but we needed to do more than just counter-attack. This is Gaelic football not soccer.
In the absence of Niall Kelly at centre-forward, we had no link man to bring the play from defence into attack. We were far too predictable and that made it easy for Dublin to stop us. Eoghan O’Flaherty and Cathal McNally were passengers because of the way the team was designed to play and without any sort of presence in the half-forward line, it was no wonder we could barely get into the Dublin half unless we hoofed it in early.
Deep down I hope that Sunday’s performance was some sort of deliberate attempt by Kildare not to show their full hand to Dublin ahead of a potential meeting in the championship but I fear that may be wishful thinking. There is no doubt that we desperately need Daryl Flynn back in midfield and Eamonn Callaghan around the fringes but we also need to find different ways to play. Gaelic football is not a puzzle that you solve once and forever have the answer.
At least this defeat comes early enough in the season that there is time for healing before the serious business begins. In the past we have entered the championship with a blind faith in what we’re doing only to see the team unravel.
Now there is time but McGeeney has to stop repeating the same mistakes. Give the team more freedom and let them trust their instincts. Playing not to lose is not a game worth playing.
U21 display leaves a lot to be desired
THERE was a moment in the second half when, much like the senior loss to Meath in last year’s Leinster championship, the game could have been stolen from us.
Meath were six points down at the time and all but dead and buried when David Hyland came to our rescue with a brilliant save on the line. Make no mistake, had that goal gone in the final stages would have been very different. We won well but there was a fine margin between victory and defeat.
The hope is that with a win under their belts, this team can go on from here and win a Leinster championship. There is definitely the talent within the side to achieve that much at least and even if Dublin were still in the competition, Kildare could be confident.
We must have one of the strongest substitutes bench in the country and Sean Hurley’s impact was immense. If Paul Cribbin is fit enough to come into contention for a starting spot as well, we should comfortably take a Laois side that had it too easy against Wicklow. Our defence looks solid and we have plenty of ball-winners around the middle. Tommy Moolick caught some great ball against Meath while Daniel Flynn was my man-of-the-match with a superb all-round display.
Fionn Dowling’s indifferent display was a disappointment but he’s a player who has very little football under his belt so you’d expect him to come on from that. Padraig Fogarty got into the groove late on but he will need to be sharper from the start. Paddy Brophy and Niall Kelly were as good as their senior form to date suggested they would be.
If Kieran McGeeney has to prioritise between national league and under-21 games for his senior players then he should go after this championship. It’s there for the taking and it’s a success we badly need.