FIRST things first, this was far from a must-win game for Kildare. The howling winds that welcomed supporters on the walk up to Croke Park were a timely reminder that serious championship football is still a long way away.
In the never-ending build-up to the games that really matter, Sunday’s league semi-final felt rather inconsequential. It didn’t really add much to the occasion to be sitting in a half-empty stadium.
Really and truly the league needs to conclude closer to the championship if it is to have any real bearing on the main competition. Five months could pass before Kildare and Tyrone meet again this year, if both sides managed to make it to the big dance in Croker in September. Both sides will be vastly different by then if they get that far.
There is no doubt that on the evidence of Sunday’s semi-final, both teams have the potential to reach that destination but Kildare still seem a little short of the big boys. The obvious weakness is in attack, where not for the first time this season they failed to make the most of the chances that came their way. Kildare have performed a myriad different ways in the league but watching the wides mount is an all too familiar experience for veteran Lilywhite fans. It has always seemed like we have to work harder to win games than most teams.
WHY SO MANY UNDER-21S IN THE STARTING 15?
You would think with so many young players in the forward line that confidence would be high, especially with the under-21s having won Leinster recently. Yet only Paul Cribbin and Paddy Brophy scored while Niall Kelly scarcely had a shot at the target. In the early rounds of the league Kelly was playing with total freedom whereas he seemed to be a little inhibited on Sunday. Then again it’s easy to forget that he’s just a year out of minor and playing his first season with the seniors.
That is where I would be critical of the management’s decision to start with six under-21s in such a tough game. The younger lads would be far more effective coming into a game whereas the substitutions that Kildare did make against Tyrone had no impact.
HOW TO SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE TOMAS O’CONNOR
Surely McGeeney and co know by now that you either start Tomas O’Connor or throw him on at half-time?
Putting him into a game late on will not work because it takes the rest of the team too long to adjust. Alan Smith took a free at one stage, which he shouldn’t have been taking in the first place, that was a miserable attempt to drop a high ball in on O’Connor. Why was Smith, and other players have been guilty of it in the past, trying to measure a ball into O’Connor? You don’t need much subtlety when you’re dropping a bomb in the square.
This is not the first time McGeeney has shown questionable judgement with his changes. If he was playing to win, surely he needed to make a change in attack much earlier than he did? And if he was using the game to take a look at players, what use was a handful of minutes for the likes of Eamonn Callaghan and Alan Smith? Those are the kind of players he needed to see in action much more than Daniel Flynn or Paddy Brophy. It doesn’t matter to those young lads whether they start or not at the moment. They’re riding high and full of confidence. Smith and Callaghan are short of match-fitness and by the brief evidence of Sunday’s appearances, are far from confident.
AVOIDING DUBS A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
It would be wrong to think that Kildare left Croke Park with many regrets though and supporters need not get too worried about things either. There was much to admire about Sunday’s performance too and not facing Dublin in a league final might well be a blessing in disguise. We are better to keep our powder dry for now.
As a work-in-progress, you can see where Kildare are going. The defence looks very secure and the system that they’ve been working on throughout the league is starting to reap dividends. Kildare have always been good at working the ball through the middle but they’re using the pace of players like Paul Cribbin and Emmet Bolton on the wings now to create more avenues for attack. You can see the benefit of being able to attack from so many different positions in the high number of scoring chances that we create.
So many teams struggle to break down defences now that creating chances is a big problem for a lot of teams so Kildare are already ahead of posse in that regard. Bringing their shooting up to scratch is the next step because it was all too painfully evident against Tyrone how we’ll fare against the big teams if we continue to waste so much ball up front. It is not merely the fact that we miss so many shots but the hurried nature of our shooting that needs to be addressed.
COMPOSURE NEEDED IN ATTACK
It is always better to kick a wide than to give the ball away to the opposition when you’re on the attack but it is equally as important to shoot from the best position. Too often we carry the ball too far. Sometimes we don’t hold on to the ball long enough to take that extra second to be sure of the score. We will be better in that regard though and that is the big advantage of having played in Division 1 this year. The games against Dublin and the two against Tyrone were played at a really high tempo where our lads will have gotten a taste for what it’s like to try and score in a championship game against the top sides. They would not have been exposed to that in Division 2.
NEEDLESS WAIT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP
It seems silly that after a glut of football for the last three months, there will be no more football for Kildare for six weeks. It is an unnecessary gap in the calendar that benefits neither the county team nor the club sides who will have the county players back for an all-too brief spell at the start of next month.
These six weeks would be better put to use in August, when all county football is finished and the clubs have total freedom to run their championships without fear of interruption.
In the meantime we must wait, like giddy little children on Christmas Eve, for the championship to come down the chimney in June. The wait will be torturous but we have every reason to be excited.