It was hard to escape the feeling of deja vu as we bowed out of the championship in familiar fashion on Saturday.
Sure there was plenty of heart and determination in the Kildare display but that’s the least you’d expect from a team playing at home with their season on the line. Our performance was no better than any of our other three displays in this year’s championship and the most disappointing thing about it is that we have not progressed since we stumbled past Offaly.
The hope was that, with each passing game, our younger players would get more comfortable at this level but the experience has left them looking drained. Apart from a brief spell after half-time, we didn’t look or act like a team flush with youth. As a result, an experienced Tyrone side beat us at their leisure.
Losing by two points would have been no great shame but we should have lost by more. Tyrone are a better team than us at present and they have a more settled side. We are a dolly mixture of talents, none of whom look ripe for championship battle. You can count on one hand the number of players that have had a campaign they can be happy with. Even the results, bad as they have been, have largely been illusory. Our two-point defeat to Tyrone was far worse than the scoreline suggested, in much the same way the final scoreline against Dublin didn’t paint the full picture. There are problems in the side and on the line that won’t be resolved so long as the status quo remains. Kildare have lost their way to a worrying degree and it’s clear from this year’s campaign that a fresh and new approach is required.
In previous campaigns the team have been able to put bad displays behind them and rebuild through the Qualifiers but you cannot build something without solid foundations. We have fallen short over the last two seasons, not because of bad luck or poor refereeing, but because the fundamentals aren’t right. Saturday night’s game exposed all the flaws and like lifting a rock, it wasn’t a pleasant sight underneath.
It has been like looking at Kildare before McGeeney arrived in this year’s championship. The players look tired, physically and mentally. It was evident throughout the first half against Tyrone when one simple mistake after another made a senior inter-county team look like a team playing the game for the first time. Confidence can’t be that high at the moment but the lack of it can’t simply explain why we’re so bad at the basics. You do not do everything right in training only to continually make a mess of things come match day. Either the players are doing the wrong kind of training or they’re not being stress-tested by the management.
Kildare must have been bad at the basics in training because in four championship games they have been bad at them. Their shooting must have been bad in training because in four championship games their shooting has been bad. Either the team management couldn’t see with their own eyes in training or else they were looking at something else.
We hear so much about training and preparation nowadays that you wonder at times if teams have forgotten about the most important ingredient in any side, their ability to play football. In order to win championships, you must win games and in order to win games you must score more than the opposition. Strip it down and football seems simple. We seem to have complicated things to the extent that everyone involved with the Kildare team are confused.
How many times on Saturday night against Tyrone did a Kildare player look uncertain on the ball? A lot of the time, the Kildare players looked uncertain before they ever got the ball. At one stage in the first half, Eamonn Callaghan delayed so long over a free that the referee threw the ball in. It was a sad sight, watching an experienced player look so helpless in the heat of battle. There was nothing riding on the free, he was far from goal and simply looking to get the game restarted. If the players can’t handle a decision like that then they’re in big trouble.
On the sideline, the decision-makers didn’t fare much better. Having begun the game with Daniel Flynn, an attack-minded midfielder, playing in a defensive role the management decided to replace him with an attack-minded attacker, Paul Cribbin. The phrase square pegs and round holes came to mind. It didn’t stack up and it didn’t work but it wasn’t McGeeney’s worst move of the night.
He had already made that one, opting to play without a sweeper in front of his full-back line. We needed to be competitive instead we were complicit in Tyrone taking a commanding lead. It was depressing to watch.
We performed so poorly and set up so naively in the first half that it would have taken a minor miracle to turn things around half-time. We are not so bad that we should have to rely on miracles to compete in games but that is where we are at. Against Dublin we enjoyed a miraculous start and even that wasn’t enough to lay a glove on them. And when we went to the well against Tyrone, we found that there wasn’t much water.
We have been running on fumes in this year’s championship and and we have only briefly spluttered into life. We are better than what we have produced and we are better than what we have seen in the last two years. Kieran McGeeney’s time with Kildare has come full circle. He began with a bad hand and got the most from them but presented with good, raw material he lacks a vision for his side. Creatively and tactically Kildare have been out of their depth for two years and in his six years at the helm, those are the areas in which Kieran McGeeney has been found wanting.
He has done a lot for Kildare football but what we now need as a county he does not yet have. He may do one day but that day is too far away for a county in a hurry.