Big championship games demand big performances from team’s big players and Kildare’s captain Eamonn Callaghan returned to the starting line up with a majestic display from half back.
Injuries meant he didn’t start a championship game last year and severely curtailed the early parts of his 2013 season so it was heartening for every Kildare fan to see him turning in the sort of Rolls Royce performance that have become the norm for him.
One of only two players in their 30s in the starting line up, there were plenty of examples of the experience he has picked up in more than 100 league and championship games for his county. It’s his reading of the game that sets Callaghan apart from many of his peers. He picked three breaking balls around the middle third early in the second half.
In the first half his interception of Gary Carroll’s pass in a two-on-one situation saved a certain goal but he also used the ball very well when in possession. He gave the ball away just twice from 26 possessions and he was pleased to be back in the grove.
“I’ve had plenty of roles in the team over the years so it was just a matter of getting my head around it. I was delighted to get back playing. It was my first championship start since the Donegal game in 2011. I was happy to be starting the game and to get through it was brilliant,” he said.
“I was playing wing back and holding in the half-back line. You do tend to pick up a lot of ball around the middle when you are playing in there but I think it’s just important that you do something with it. It worked today. I found myself on a lot of ball but I still have a lot of work to do. I gave away a hand pass there at the end which was sloppy. When you are playing in the half-back line and they were getting overlaps, that was a bit sloppy too, we need to cut those mistakes out for the next day,” he said.
Callaghan felt the team’s performance tailed off near the end of the game.
“It was looking a bit ropey there at the end but we had built up a good lead in the second half. We have a lot to learn from the last ten or 15 minutes because they threw everything at us. In fairness to them, they opened us up a few times, had three or four goal chances and got themselves back in the game. We were lucky enough to hold on in the end.
“Our goal wasn’t under threat until the 60th minute and then all of a sudden they had three or four goal chances. It’s definitely something we are going to have to look at because if we give teams those chances at this level they are going to take them. It’s very frustrating to finish the game like that. We would have liked to have kicked on and finished the game well, it’s just a bit disappointing that they were able to come back into it.”
There were plenty of positives for the new Kildare captain as well.
“We got a lot of shots from play. Our half forward line scored 12 points from play which is massive and it’s great. We had a couple of chances in the last ten or 15 minutes that we didn’t take, they would have finished off the game but we didn’t take them and it gave them a lift. We missed some sloppy chances.”
Callaghan was delighted to see so many young players show what they could do on the big stage.
“They (young players) all stepped up as we expected them to. They’ve been training very well through the year and they’ve done very well with the under-21s. It’s great to see lads making their debut and performing like that. They really did stand up and it’s positive for the future but we definitely have a lot to work on.”
It’s now about improving as a team ahead of a fourth Leinster semi-final under Kieran McGeeney.
“We can learn a huge amount from this game and the last ten minutes were definitely a kick up the backside. We can learn from a few things. We are happy to win the game, we knew Offaly were going to be good and going to come with a lot more intensity than they did last year. We got that, we got a tougher game and we dealt with it well but we definitely have a lot to work on over the next four weeks.”
CALLAGHAN BY NUMBERS
14/15 – HandPass
10/11 – KickPass
4 – Fouls
4 – Frees won
3 – Interceptions
3 – Dispossessions
4 – Breaking ball won from kick-outs