KILDARE boss, Kieran McGeeney hailed his side’s steely resolve as they recovered from a dreadful start to wear Meath down with a sensational second-half performance at Croke Park yesterday.
Falling behind by six points and having lost talismanic midfielder Dermot Earley – "the team’s heartbeat" according to the equally inspirational Johnny Doyle – when the big man’s knee gave out in the third minute, things were not looking good for the Lilies.
Slow starts are nothing new to them at this stage of course and they gradually worked themselves back into the game before blowing Meath away.
McGeeney said: "Today the boys showed real character. We lost Emmet (Bolton) before the Tyrone game last year, when we were already without Mikey Conway. Those things hit a team hard but today we lost Dermot and the boys stood up. They put their bodies on the line, and that’s what you need against a team like Meath, who are a hard, tough physical team. We were losing the battle at different stages but the boys stuck at it."
Unsurprisingly, the Mullaghbawn man preferred to see the second half happenings more as a result of his team’s efforts, rather than the Royals crumbling. And he had a point. The Leinster champions just couldn’t cope with the constant harassing of the Kildare players. "Every time we play a team they crumble or they are no good. I would hope some of it had to do with the effort our boys put in. They put in a huge workrate."
Alan Smith’s goal just before the interval was crucial McGeeney admitted, putting them right in contention despite having struggled initially to cope with the aerial threat posed by Joe Sheridan and Shane O’Rourke.
"It was a great response. We scored a goal and, you have to give credit to Meath, I think they hit four unanswered points after that, especially a point of the season from Joe Sheridan, 55 yards out on the sideline. We hadn’t been getting the ball into our inside line, we worked on that and today we got the goals we haven’t been getting.
"It was good to get it."
Doyle agreed that Kildare had been helped by their run of six games in five weeks that has seen them transformed from Leinster also-rans, to genuine contenders for All-Ireland honours.
"It’s beneficial when you win," said the captain. "If you don’t, it would be a case that it was too much, too many weeks on the trot. When you win, it’s easy to say that you’ve momentum built, and that’s true.
"Winning breeds confidence, and we didn’t lack any confidence. We knew what we’re capable of and we kept going."
McGeeney now prepares to cross swords with an old adversary in James McCartan and while he was completely tongue in cheek when saying "we’ll give it a lash", he knows that his side will face a monumental challenge to overcome the slayers of Kerry.
"We have it all to do. I’d know wee James fairly well and he is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. Down love Croke Park and I’m sure they’ll be booking up hotels for the All-Ireland but we’ll give it a lash anyway."