SO many questions, so few answers. It was hard to know what to think leaving Croke Park on Sunday because the writing was on the wall before we ever got there.
When word of Offaly’s annihilation against Tyrone came through on Saturday, I feared the worst for us. If they could travel to Tullamore and, at less than full strength, beat the hosts by a cricket score what hope did we have against a Dublin side similar in style but superior in substance? By the end of the game that was an after-thought. Kildare were beaten a long, long time before throw-in on Sunday.
The seeds of this defeat were sown in Kieran McGeeney’s head whenever he decided Kildare could beat Dublin at their own game. A junior C manager would have put 15 men behind the ball against a team with so much pace and scoring power. Yet the man who has watched Kildare come up short in open games of football for the last six years still can’t see the wood from the trees.
To look back at the game and pinpoint Kildare’s errors as reasons for this total demolition is folly. The malaise goes much deeper than that. Kildare were doomed to fail once they decided to play in the manner that they did because for them to succeed in the way that they set out would have required them to make no mistakes. Even if they had succeeded in that approach and recorded 100 per cent success rates in everything they did from hand-passing to shooting, they still needed Dublin to make mistakes for them to win. And because of that incredibly naïve approach, when Kildare inevitably did make mistakes, the side collapsed.
If it was painful viewing for supporters, I can only imagine what it was like for the players, especially those left totally exposed in the full-back line. Before you can win a football game, you must learn how not to lose. In the last 12 months we have lost two championship games on a grand scale because our manager has not learned from his own mistakes. As a rookie manager in 2008, it was natural for McGeeney to make mistakes but to repeat his errors in 2013 is unforgiveable. On Sunday, he led his team over a cliff.
He is not the only one to blame for this debacle because there comes a time when players have to stand up and be counted. It was not their fault that they were ill-equipped to do their job on Sunday but experienced men like John Doyle, Eamonn Callaghan and Mick Foley should have called a halt in training whenever this brain-dead scheme was dreamed up in Hawkfield. Their real errors were ones of omission.
If I was told during the week that Kildare were going to play Dublin man for man, I wouldn’t have bothered travelling to Croke Park. It was doomed to fail just like it has in the past. Kildare brought nothing new to the table and once Dublin adapted to the conditions on Sunday, it was game over. The writing was on the wall after ten minutes and the only mercy was that Dublin gave us a five-point head-start. Our execution was only slightly delayed.
You could be here for a fortnight picking holes in Kildare’s strategy and selection but that would be a futile exercise. If those in charge can’t see the obvious then it’s time for them to go. With six under-21s in his starting 15, Kieran McGeeney had responsibility for the future of Kildare football and by Sunday evening, he was in dereliction of duty. For all his qualities as a footballer and leader of men, he is no use to any team if he is leading them in the wrong direction.
The scars from Sunday’s defeat will take a long time to heal. For the older members of the squad, this might be one defeat too many and certainly one defeat by too much. For the huge number of under-21s in the squad their confidence will have been shattered. Like a horse that’s taken a heavy fall, they will err on the side of caution from now on. That fearlessness that gives youth an edge has been taken from them.
They will find it hard to trust this manager again and it will take them longer than normal to trust the next one. The sad thing is that it need not have been like this.
It is one thing having belief in your players but blind faith in a flawed system is a recipe for disaster. Kildare’s players, especially the younger ones, shouldn’t be criticised for their belief in that system and their belief in what their manager told them. In fact, they should be given credit for their faith in this Kildare project. Unfortunately for them, those in charge led them into a Coliseum for a fight for which they were not ready.
Having taken us further than we could ever have imagined possible when he took over in 2007, Kieran McGeeney walked his own plank on Sunday. For a man who has brought so many good things to Kildare, it was sad to watch him do it.